Advertising That Won’t Be Silenced

How did you discover your interest in advertising and gain the skills necessary for your discipline? In third grade, I read the novel Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I honestly don’t remember anything else from that book other than that Ramona loved commercials more than daytime TV—she thought of them as entertainment. For some reason, that stuck with eight-year-old me, and I started watching commercials for entertainment value too. Cut to many years later and after a long winding path, I found myself not pursuing environmental law as I’d planned but attending the Creative Circus, an Atlanta-based advertising portfolio school that launched me into my first internship at DDB NY.

What do you do in your current role as group creative director at Venables Bell + Partners (VB+P)? As a group creative director, my role is to make sure I’m doing right by my team and our clients. It’s a balancing act between being a unique creative problem solver while keeping strategy at the center, all in service of achieving our client’s business goals. To keep this juggling act going, I try to ensure my team is set up for success, so everyone can use their strengths and make great work we’re all proud of.

Tell me about Women That Fight (WTF), a collective of ad executives that you helped establish. What is WTF’s mission, and what have been some of the projects you’ve created? As WTF, we’re on a mission to create an impact on some of the most divisive issues of our time. We were deeply hurt and disturbed by the vanishing reproductive rights and personal freedoms of all people in this country. This was the motivation to form WTF. It is now our aim to use our platform and resources to inspire action on topics we’re most passionate about.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a handful of agency women and men decided we had to create something meaningful. We wanted to channel our anger and pain into something impactful. So, we created the campaign Eff-Urself to support the National Network of Abortion Funds and raise money for those who lack access. Eff-Urself is a parody product and infomercial film that satirically exposes the lack of choices Americans have left for protecting their bodies and reproductive health. It is a metaphor for the lengths the Supreme Court is all but insisting that people must go to avoid getting pregnant at one of the riskiest times.

All proceeds supported individuals who desperately need help in states where abortion is illegal or nearly impossible to obtain. It felt cathartic to support the National Network of Abortion Funds, because it has such an extensive network across the nation and a direct, immediate impact on those who lack access to reproductive healthcare.

Have you helped with any diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at VB+P? If so, what have they been, and how was it to work on them? I’m a member of the Advisory Board at VB+P, which aims to proactively build an agency culture where all employees feel they have a voice within the company and to represent the broader employee population in key leadership decisions. As a response to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, I was part of a team that updated our internal policies to broaden our support for a more holistic reproductive rights policy. The revised policies also provide support for our people and their partners who may be struggling with fertility, placing a foster child, experiencing a miscarriage and requiring safe access to abortion care.

And because DEI is so baked into our culture, we have created Do Right Workstreams that champion underrepresented people and issues that matter deeply to them. I was fortunate to spearhead work to combat the rise in discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in recent years. An estimated one in five members of the AAPI community have recently experienced a hate incident. The stark reality is that the AAPI community rarely feels comfortable enough to come forward and report these incidents. This raises the pressing question: How many experiences continue to stay hidden in plain sight?

To create awareness, we partnered with Stop AAPI Hate, an incredible nonprofit that addresses and tracks racial discrimination, to create solutions to bring these stories to life. We created Invisible No More, a thought-provoking film that empowers AAPI people to raise their voices and be heard, to take up space, and to finally be seen.

Advertising is a megaphone. We have the ability to disrupt and ensure that everyone feels seen. I believe it’s our responsibility to progress our industry to a place that’s inclusive for all people, within our workplaces and through our work. ”

Do you think there are any areas in DEI that the ad industry as a whole needs to focus on or doesn’t talk about enough? Representation has historically been a problem in advertising. And while there has been progress in featuring diverse characters and voices, there’s still a lot of work to be done in showing underrepresented people in the work. This includes but isn’t limited to people with disabilities, different gender identities and intersectional identities. Recognizing the intersection of various identities and experiences is crucial to creating work that truly resonates with today’s audience.

Advertising is a megaphone. We have the ability to disrupt and ensure that everyone feels seen. I believe it’s our responsibility to progress our industry to a place that’s inclusive for all people, within our workplaces and through our work.

What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? Of course, AI. We find ourselves in the early stages of this revolutionary, evolving, almost-lifelike entity. I’m incredibly curious about how this will mold our industry and the influence it will have on human behavior. It’s like the Wild West, and I’m eager to see how we all will wield this power.

I’m also happy that humor is making a comeback in the work. We’ve endured and continue to face many tragedies and losses in today’s world, but it’s human nature to life ourselves out of the downward spiral, and comedy plays a significant role in that process. It’s finally time to laugh and have some fun again.

What is one challenge currently facing ad agencies that they must address to stay relevant? There are so may challenges that threaten relevancy, from DEI to AI and a laundry list of acronyms and even more buzzwords in between. But what all of these challenges have in common is the ability to evolve and to do it quickly. We must stay nimble and change at the speed of culture or get left behind.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? Instead of following the shiny agency name or title, follow the people. At the end of the day, as much as every agency strives to be a family, it’s a business. And as soon as any business is lost, it won’t have a problem letting you go, too. But, if you work for good people, they’ll advocate for you. Whether that’s advocating for a raise, a promotion, keeping your job in a downturn or even helping you find the next job should the inevitable happen, good people will have your back and continue to support you no matter where you go. Being surrounded by the good people at VB+P is one of the top reasons I continue to love working here. ca

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