Ten years ago, after deciding that intellectual property litigation wasn’t my destined career path (TG), I contacted the mother of a former high school friend with whom I’d interned many years prior. She hooked me up with a job as a creative assistant and a short few weeks later, I entered the ad agency now known as Ogilvy. I remember every detail of my first day—what I was wearing, how awkward I felt at the rampant cursing, casual vibe, and eccentric appearances of all my new colleagues (especially after the uptight environment of the law firm). I recall blinking my eyes in doe-eyed wonder as we passed a man sitting in his office playing guitar and asking myself what was this strange world I’d entered into.
As an assistant, I worked for nearly sixty, mostly male creatives, and supported 6 or so Group Creative Directors. Two of these GCDs were women who stood out from everyone else. Debra and Jackie were their names and I was completely infatuated from the moment we met. Perpetually dressed to the nines, never without heels, perfectly coiffed, always smiling and forever en-route to a meeting or a shoot or a pre-pro without ever breaking stride in their four-inch heels. Strong, successful, glamorous and talented as hell, these women epitomized what I wanted my advertising career to be.
The next few years passed in a blur but throughout, the ladies, supportive of my dreams of being a copywriter, always gave me briefs to try to tackle, guided me through my first copy missteps and most importantly, advised me on how to break into this business. I stayed at Ogilvy for two and a half years and though I haven’t had the pleasure of working with this duo again professionally, we’ve stayed in touch, exchanging birthday and holiday well wishes, and running into one another at industry events.
Last week, I attended the annual 3% conference, a gathering of ad-folks where the focus was on the gender disparity in our industry, specifically, that 89% of creative directors are male. It’s called the 3% conference because prior to its inception, 97% of creative directors were male but the influence of this incredible organization has started to chip away at this sad reality. On day one of the conference, I walked in, looked up, and who did I see but Jackie, in all her glory. After a quick hug and catch-up, we spent the next two days surrounded by women just like her. Strong, powerful leaders, who are kicking ass in advertising and other industries. At the end of day two, Jackie came over to me to tell me how proud she was of all that I‘d accomplished and how far I’d come. Aside from how obviously wonderful it was hearing this praise from one of my sheroes, it also made me reflect on how fortunate I was to have had this woman as an instant role model in my first position in the business. I don’t think I realized how influential she‘d been until this conference.
I came into advertising through unconventional means. I didn’t go to ad school (now, nearly a necessity to even having anyone consider hiring you) and at every step in my career, I’ve had almost as many naysayers as supporters. With each new job search, I had people telling me there was no way I’d get where I wanted to go.
- You’ll never become a copywriter after starting as an assistant
- You’ll never be able to get into a non-pharma role (after taking a senior copy position at a pharma agency)
- Maybe try to look a little less ‘polished’, it intimidates people
- You come off too strong—try to tone it down a bit if you want to get ahead
Fortunately, I have a very thick skin and I was able to turn this negativity into a positive with, to borrow a phrase from a new Shero, Carla Harris, Vice Chairman/ Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, and, a speaker at the conference, “negative motivation”.
After these two thought provoking days, I was filled with gratitude first, that a conference like this exists. But secondly, for the women who got me there to begin with and whom I have insufficiently thanked. The amazing woman who first got me an internship at Ogilvy. The team of female CDs that gave me my first TV brief, helped me sell my first campaign and ultimately attend a shoot while still working as an assistant. Or my mother, a woman who I never give enough credit to. One of the sessions called ‘My Year of Whittling’ featured Kelly Fredrickson, SVP/Enterprise Marketing at Bank of America. During her talk, she asked us to take a moment and think of someone we admire and list out the qualities that make us admire them. The first person to come to my mind was my mother. She’s the one who taught me to be as fierce as I am. To speak my mind and not let people intimidate me. She gave me the charisma I need to succeed in a business like advertising.
And now, two exhilarating days later, thrilled to have been reunited with some of my sheroes, I have a new one to add to my list. Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference and a woman brave enough to identify a problem in our industry, face it head on, and rise to the challenge of making true on Margaret Mead’s belief that ‘a small group of thoughtful people could change the world’. So thank you to Kat, my mother, Jackie, Debra, and all the other incredible women who are my sheroes and who have made me who I am today.