Mad Moms

There’s an undercurrent that’s uniting women in advertising. It’s the wave of awareness that having women at the helm of creative is pertinent to the success of many brands. Today, American women impact the decision making for 85% of all consumer purchases – everything from autos to healthcare. They are spending about $7 trillion annually. And, even though they are making these choices, according to a 2012 Greenfield Online Study, over 90% of women surveyed feel marketers don’t understand them. This represents a huge disconnect.

So, even with the efforts to protect workplace equality in today’s business climate, the alternative female voices in the creative realm are not widely represented. Simply put, it’s smart business to have women involved in the creative process, and as an art director and a new mom of a six month-old girl, I find this unifying movement in my field personally intriguing.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an event for the American Advertising Federation-Orlando with guest author Jane Maas, writer of Mad Women, which describes her experiences on Madison Avenue during the “Mad Men” era. While an employee at Ogilvy & Mather, the agency landed the Clairol account, even though Ogilvy had three female account executives, none were even considered for the account – just too big of an opportunity.

During the event’s Q&A session, she was asked by a fellow female colleague what a woman had to do to get ahead in the industry, and without pause, she stated emphatically, “Everything a man does, but better. You have to put your job in front of your children, your husband and your friends.”

We also see it recreated for American television. In a “Mad Men” episode (the award-winning, AMC show), character, Don Draper, the firm’s partner and creative director, only minutes after the agency was awarded the Jaguar account, blurts out to Peggy Olson, a female creative, he can’t possibly give the account to her because “it’s a car.”

Is yesterday’s norm still today’s truth? Is this why there are few women reaching the senior levels of the creative corporate ladder? Is advertising still a boys’ club? Some say women are not as available once they become mothers. Is this true or are there other factors at play?

The dialogue heated up even further due to an upcoming event, The 3% Conference, focusing on the eye-opening statistic of only three percent of all creative directors are women. Kat Gordon, entrepreneur and founder of conference, spent 20 years in the advertising industry as a senior copywriter for many large ad agencies. She worked on campaigns for Microsoft, Saturn and Target, to name a few. In 2008, she opened her own agency, Maternal Instinct, and asked the industry, “Why is the most powerful consumer segment in the world — women — not being marketed to from a place of understanding?”

That one question is what spearheaded the creation of this first-of-its-kind conference. Her story so deeply moved me, I contacted her for an interview.

Q: Did you have a female mentor or someone you admired within the industry?

A: Actually, I had a male mentor. His name is Fred Schwartz. He was the first creative director who really saw my value as both a copywriter and as a salesperson of my work to clients. Creating campaigns is only half the equation. Selling them to the client is often just as important. Fred was a big cheerleader for me and still is.

Q: So far what has been the response to the conference and your platform?

A: It has been a resounding yes! I did my legwork and presented a survey to 50 creative women in the industry to see how this idea would be perceived, from its positioning all the way through to agenda topics. I clearly had hit something big. Many women have emailed to give me an “Atta Girl” and just to say how grateful they are someone is addressing this important issue. Of course the biggest response is in attendance and we have women flying to San Francisco from New York, Chicago, Austin, Richmond and Washington, DC to be part of our event. That says a lot.

Q: Do you honestly think you have to choose the ad business over your children or vice versa?

A: No, but you might need to adjust who you work for in the ad business. When I had my two sons, I did decide to leave the agency I worked for and start my own freelance consultancy. The downside to that is you don’t always get the opportunity to work for the big brands or get the high visibility assignments that win awards. But you have far more control over your schedule. It’s all summed up by a quote I love: “You can do anything you want. But you can’t do everything you want.”

Q: Besides the conference, how else can men and women stop the cycle of looking past women for positions of creative authority?

A: I believe agencies have to have a plan in place. They need metrics about how many women they currently have in positions of power and how many they want to have. Then they need to huddle together and find ways – including mentorship and more flexible work schedules – to make it possible for more women to climb the ladder and achieve creative director status.

Q: What would be your #1 piece of advice for young women who have the passion for the ad industry, but perhaps have been discouraged by what they are hearing or have been told?

A: I would tell them that big change is afoot, and it’s a great time to be in the business. I would also tell them the world needs them now more than ever, and they are very valuable. My generation of women and men who wish this change to happen are behind them – we are campaigning for them.

My conversation with Kat was definitely uplifting and I’m proud to be in advertising when the tides are turning. They’re slow, but they’re turning! A perfect example is an indelible commercial released in April 2012 for Proctor & Gamble commercial (P&G Best Job), whose number one goal was to honor and give thanks to moms; especially the moms of Olympic athletes. It showcases moms from Brazil, China, USA and the UK, where the 2012 Olympics are being held, in a very raw way. They capture them going through their routine of chores and responsibilities as they witness their little ones grow into world-class athletes and ultimately, compete in the Olympic Games. The name of the commercial, “Best Job” by Wieden + Kennedy Portland (Ore.), was spearheaded by one of the most talented creative directors in the country, Danielle Flagg, a woman. Bravo!

Coining myself as a “Mad Mom,” I do find it challenging being a mother and a professional creative, but I believe I’m setting a good example for my daughter. You have to follow your passion in life. There will be sacrifices and hardships, but you must enjoy your career path. I want to teach her that. And bottom line for the business community, the ultimate goal of advertising is to increase the sales of a client’s product and/or service by making the marketing relevant to the consumer. They can start by embracing women’s (including moms) contributions to selling to the consumer they know best: themselves.