Meryl Draper, 27, is the co-founder and CEO of Quirk Creative, award-winning video advertising agency based in Brooklyn. Quirk works with clients including Western Union, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, and Carbonite, helping them launch campaigns that get consumers to fall in love with their brands. Draper began her career in public relations at MSLGROUP, working with clientele including Cisco and Blackboard. She joined Ogilvy & Mather in Bangalore, India, where she oversaw IBM's advertising campaigns across 25+ global markets. Prior to founding Quirk, Draper built big data startup darling 6sense's brand from the ground up, helping secure $32 million in funding.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was always the smallest and youngest of my class, and I suppose in retrospect that that instilled a desire to prove people wrong quite early on. Whether it was proving to others that I could stick it out on the (all male) wrestling team in high school, or that I could succeed in a management position at age 22, and now in owning and running my agency Quirk Creative.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Quirk Creative?
Working with extraordinary client (IBM, Cisco) and creative teams at Ogilvy & Mather and Qorvis MSLGroup got me hooked on the advertising industry. But the operational inefficiencies I witnessed at large agencies—like layers of hierarchy slowing the creative process, siloed teams leading to disparate campaign strategy, and padded overhead costs driving down clients’ ROI—really influenced the way I decided to structure Quirk Creative as an agency.
The turning point for taking the plunge and launching Quirk was the experience I gained working client-side for the first time. I was working at an exciting Silicon Valley startup, building the brand from the ground up. For the first time, I found myself actually hiring agencies, which opened my eyes to the pain points from the client perspective. The frustration of getting billed for a phone call from one agency, for example. Or a creative taking forever to get finished, as another. It’s this mix of agency and client experience that has shaped my worldview of what the agency of the future looks like.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Quirk Creative?
We’ve been fortune enough to get our foot in the door with some exciting brands pretty quickly. Landing Western Union in our first year was a massive highlight. To pull that off we took on a project that no other agency would touch because of its deadline. It was a spot that needed to be completed in two weeks. Oh, and was going to be filmed in thirteen cities around the country (Hawaii, Alaska, New York…). Because Quirk is set up to produce content and creative quickly, we made it happen and it propelled us into a wonderful relationship with Western Union.
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as an agency is learning to edit our own messaging. After a few years of straying from our roots and true expertise – video advertising – we made a conscious effort to dial back and commit to that singular message. Ironically, narrowing our scope has increased the number of companies and brands reaching out to work with us. We know what we’re good at, so that’s what we stick to now.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Make friends with data. You just can’t be in the advertising industry today without understanding how data and creative can work together. We’re in a unique time in advertising where we have access to tons of data and can apply those learnings to creative development. I’m talking about testing phrases before you write your script. I’m talking about putting a puppy in the first five seconds of your ad because you know that’s what your consumers click. I’m talking about using the color blue instead of red because your market research told you to. Yes, this approach demands that creative ego take a little bit of a back seat, but ultimately the marriage of data and creative is the future of advertising.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Committing to saying yes to opportunities that present themselves has been the singular driver in my career so far. There have been moments where I’ve been incredibly scared to say yes – like moving to India to lead an IBM client account at Ogilvy – but simply committing to saying yes and figuring it out as you go along is enough. It’s that mindset that has allowed me to bypass the traditional career ladder.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My business partner is also my partner in life, which makes work/life balance that much more important to define. For example, we don’t work weekends.*
*Ok I’m lying, I’m actually typing this on Sunday. How do you maintain a work/life balance? Start by acknowledging that maintaining that balance is challenging and demands constant work. For me, that means trying not to beat myself up when I inevitably do end up reviewing proposals on the weekends, or on the other end of the spectrum, leaving work at 5pm one day because damn it I deserve it. It’s a constant work in progress.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Not asking for it, whatever “it” is. That raise, that promotion, that client, that responsibility, that project, that sauce on the side. We need to start getting real comfortable about asking for what we want, and then taking it.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There have been a number of people who have played central roles to furthering my career, like Farah Stockman, who helped me land my first agency job at Qorvis MSLGroup, and Alan Hallberg, who introduced me to Poran Malani at Ogilvy (who in turn opened my eyes to how to run an agency a different way.)
One of the most impactful mentorships I’ve had in my personal life was my high school wrestling coach, Sobhan Namvar. He encouraged me – the lone woman on the team – to stick out through the season, which taught me a world about perseverance.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Senator Kamala Harris is a boss and one to watch.
Specific to the advertising industry, Kat Gordon, Founder of the 3% Conference, is doing excellent work to fix the gender imbalance in the advertising industry and I admire that greatly.
What do you want Quirk Creative to accomplish in the next year?
We’re going to be 100% focused on continuing to deliver exceptional creative for our brand partners, launching our proprietary technology, and bringing more clients over from the dark side (i.e., moving from large bloated agencies over to a nimble shop like ours). In my experience, those brands never regret it!