ON GENDER, CULTURE, AND CAREER CHOICE
When I was younger, I gave very little thought to the implications of being a female in the business world. I would like to say it was because I was such a confident, intelligent and bold feminist. But the truth is, it simply never occurred to me. I was much more insecure about my age (26) when I first started my company. I assumed any resistance to my concepts, ideas and strategies were either a result of being too young to be taken seriously or that my ideas needed more work. I assumed that when male clients punched holes in my proposals and presentations, it was because the work was inferior. I simply worked harder and harder to ensure they could find no holes to punch. And, I say male clients, because a review of the 400+ clients I have served, revealed that 96% of the decision makers were men. I had to learn to speak their language and that was typically in the form of numbers. If I was selling real estate, I talked in terms of reaching performas or absorption levels. If I was working with a medical practice, I spoke in terms of actuary numbers.
But backing up a bit might help to see how I got there. When I graduated from college in the late 70’s, there was a terrible recession and all I heard was that I would never get a job in advertising. So, one week after graduation, I accepted an offer with a pro-hockey team. I have always loved sports and that was certainly a fun and exciting job. And it was there that I learned to “work well with men,” because whether it was the management, the media, the players or the fans… it was predominantly a male-dominated industry.
After three years with the team and with the economy improving, I decided to officially begin my career in advertising. I started in the industry as a graphic designer, which was much more accepted than in the positions of copywriter or creative directors. However, my major degree was in marketing and I quickly became frustrated with just being told what to do “graphically” when I felt the concepts and messaging were completely off base. So, I only worked for other agencies for a couple of years before starting my own company with my sister-in-law, also a designer.
Essentially, it was my love for the challenge to develop successful brands and/or campaigns to generate exceptional results for clients that drove me. Results that far exceeded expectations. And that passion overrode any and all of the many obstacles I have incurred over the years. Obstacles that I can now look back and see were indeed a consequence of my being a woman.
In 2006 it was clear we were about to face the impending recession. So, I hired a top new business person to lead aggressive efforts to generate new business and ensure we could ride the storm with ease. After a few months of pounding, he came to me and said he had never experienced such resistance – that companies were not only, not hiring new agencies, they were already slicing existing budgets significantly. But he said that in the process of conducting massive research, he kept reading about this new thing called “social media”. He felt strongly that we had to jump in and figure it out, so that we would be able to offer the service on the other side of the recession. It was also becoming evident that this new media would create an irreversible paradigm shift within the advertising industry, essentially turning everything upside down.
The more he researched, he also began to see the implications it could have on new business for the agency and suggested that we start our own blog and networking channels to learn how to do it for our clients. Shaquille O’Neal @shaq, was one of the first people I started following on Twitter and he had a little more than 12,000 followers. Today he has 11.1 million.
We realized that we needed to choose a specialty to optimize the exposure of the blog. We began a great deal of soul searching and brainstorming to determine just what our agency niche might be. It quickly surfaced that we had been highly successful in marketing to the female for the past 25 years. This direction was also timely, as it had not been that long that so many statistics revealed the power of this sought after consumer.
Hence, we settled on Sheconomy®. And because we recognized that as Creative Director I had successfully worked with men to implement our strategies and concepts, we added the tagline, “A Guy’s Guide to Marketing to Women”.
So, the initial purpose of Sheconomy® was to generate new business for Holland and Holland Advertising and to learn social media. But it rapidly took on a life of its own. Sheconomy® has been recognized in the national and international media. I have been quoted in the same fashion creating massive exposure. I have been acknowledged for promoting diversity and female advancement within the industry. I am extremely grateful to have been fortunate to speak throughout the US as well as in Europe and have consulted with major brands including Porsche. But I can honestly say I am most appreciative of the calls and emails I receive suggesting that I have inspired women to start new businesses and speak up during meetings and men who say they have been following me for years and use the info I offer to make a difference in better understanding the female audience.
ON GENDER AND LEADERSHIP IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY
I believe I probably covered some of this earlier, but I would accentuate the point, that I learned to speak their language. I respected what they had to say and I learned to sell them on how to market effectively to the female, with their own numbers or expectations. I cannot say I consciously did this because I was a female trying to fit into a male-dominated industry, but more because I took most criticism as an opportunity to “make the work better.”
It has also required persistence and a passion for delivering result-oriented work.
Below is an excerpt I pulled from a blog I wrote a few years ago:
In my 25 years as an advertising agency owner and creative director whose clients have been 96% male decision makers, I have been called a lot of things:
• Too focused on detail
• Too passionate
• Too feminine
• Too subtle
• Too research oriented
• Too focused on aesthetics
• Too sensitive
Sound like anyone you know? Perhaps your wife, mother, daughter, sister and every other woman you’ve ever known? (your target audience?) It’s okay. You just don’t understand them, and, really, what man does? And women know this. That is why they trust women. Women understand them.
To be fair, I have also been called (after I convinced my male clients to trust me):
• and even Genius (my personal favorite)
However, I would also suggest that over time I lost a bit of who I was in order to do that. That is, I tried to minimize some of the attributes noted in the first list. In becoming the man, you end up losing a part of yourself. I have spoken with numerous women who have experienced the same thing. The female had to adapt to the male business world. I see that changing somewhat and I feel that is a good thing.
ON WOMEN IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY
For starters, I feel she could immediately affect a company’s bottom line if she is in a position of authority to call the shots or is respected enough that her ideas are implemented before they are second-guessed and diluted. Women are the most powerful purchasing audience and women know what women want. It is not at all difficult to grasp the profitable correlation here, but the implications are incredibly threatening to most men.
Also, because it is still such a male-dominated field, I feel it has to start with the men. There are some men who have figured out the value in embracing, mentoring, supporting and promoting women. But they are the minority. We need more. A great deal more. That is where it starts.
I feel another area requiring massive change is awards. Promotions as well as new jobs in creative are greatly influence by creative awards they have received. I believe the more than 200-year intrinsic culture of a male-dominated industry is one thing that has to change. And I feel it has been intensified by awards.
The following cycle occurred for at least 75 years before women became visible.
• Male creatives developed the work.
• Male creative directors judged the work.
• Standards were set – to not be based on results, but instead based on creativity (from male perspective).
• Male juries rewarded male-created work.
• Awards equated with optimum talent.
• Agencies used awards to define optimum talent.
• Optimum talent equals male creatives.
• Agencies hired male creatives.
• Repeat cycle for 75 years.
Add to that a book written by Gloria Moss, a professor at Buckinghamshire New University in London who specializes in gender and visual psychology. Titled “Why Men Like Straight Lines and Women Like Polka Dots,” her 10 years of research summarizes that “men find men’s design more appealing, and women find women’s design more appealing.” How would that not affect predominantly men judging creative work? It doesn’t.
ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Although I would have to admit I have probably never mastered the balance that we all seek and want, owning my own company has actually allowed me over the years, the flexibility to give it a shot. There have been more times than I could count that I would put my children to bed and head back to work. And, if not for my husband who was also my partner I would not have had a resemblance of the balance I did have. Today, I enjoy time with my grandson immensely and we just found out that we have another on the way, traveling and riding my bike.
ON THE INTERNET AND ITS EFFECT ON THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY
Yes, digital and social media took an industry that has performed essentially the same way for more than one hundred years and turned it upside down in the last five. It placed the consumer in control. It gave them a voice. More specifically, it gave the female a voice. A very loud one. This rapid and seemingly overnight shift has actually reenergized me. I find it both challenging and exciting times to be in advertising. There is more accountability and I find that refreshing.
Live streaming is going to speed things up even more if that is possible. We are an instant gratification society and these capabilities will challenge marketers even further in trying to get consumers to slow down for a mere 30 seconds.
Mobile will dominate as has been predicted and wearable technology will replace it as the next big thing. Challenges will include how to utilize it.
I feel one of the greatest challenges will continue to be how to capitalize on all of the data we now have access to. While the data is there, interpretation is still key and who is conducting the interpretation becomes paramount.
Rich content will not only remain king for a while longer, it will become even more important to differentiate. With digital assistants like Siri and app indexing making it even more complex to reach your market, what you are saying becomes even more critical.
ADVICE TO YOUNG WOMEN IN THE ADVERTISING INDUSTRY
1. Don’t simply adapt to the men’s business world. Resist advice on how to act in the existing boardroom. Create your own space and bring the male thinking into yours.
2. Support and encourage other women. Because there have been so few spaces for women at the table, this has pitted women against each other in the past.
3. Don’t compromise. If you have done your research and believe in your ideas, be prepared to fight for them.