DON'T INTERRUPT: PAM FUJIMOTO
Becky Brinkerhoff is the social media manager for 3% and a copywriter at Arnold Worldwide in Boston. She’s a diversity and inclusivity activist in all things and hasn’t been “chill” a single day in her life.
Attempting to list Pam Fujimoto’s current roles and initiatives in one breath is a great test of lung capacity. She’s currently the Executive Creative Director at WONGDOODY LA. She launched the Wongtern Program (note: great name) and the agency's Women in Advertising scholarship. She also co-founded June Cleaver Is Dead, the new in-agency consultancy that explores how marketers can better understand and connect with moms.
As we spoke to Pam about creative leadership, diversity in work and June Cleaver is Dead, one thing became abundantly clear—Pam’s capacity to care seemingly knows no cap.
What were you like in High School?
I was the art-nerd/nerd-nerd—various versions of nerdiness. I liked to do art stuff and I liked to get good grades. I also played violin so I was a pretty good Asian other than totally sucking at math.
What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
In Seattle, there was a stadium—one of the big, concrete ones from the 70s—called The Kingdome. They imploded it about ten years ago because it was a scar on the face of the architectural earth. But, when it was alive and kicking, I popped popcorn for the entire stadium. The popping would happen days ahead of any event; I would start on a Wednesday for a Saturday game. These popcorn bags were about as tall as I am and would just stack up in the corner of the room over days.
So, I would be in this tiny, hot room popping popcorn on this one machine all by myself for hours and hours. It was perfect for an introvert.
Important follow-up question: do you still eat popcorn?
In the popping of the popcorn, you have the popcorn and you have this congealed paste thing that becomes the “butter.” Once you encounter that, you don’t want to eat it in any form. So I eat popcorn, but I don’t get the weird, fake butter-stuff.
What keeps you up at night?
Being kept up at night isn’t really a problem anymore. I don’t know why. Perhaps I’ve chilled out. I don’t think I have. So, maybe some portion of my brain has chilled out. Maybe my exhaustion just finally won out.
In terms of what I worry about, I worry about our employees. That I’m making sure everybody’s satisfied and they’re getting as much as they can out of working here. I wish every good idea we pitched to client went through, but we don’t have control over when that doesn’t happen. It's tough being the one to tell people their dreams have been crushed and having that come across in a positive way is very hard when it’s really just a shitty thing. I do worry about making sure the folks who work here continue to be fulfilled in what they’re doing, regardless of the things we can’t control.
Also, this doesn’t necessarily keep me up at night, but when we’re in a pitch, I’m constantly thinking about the best way in. I get into pitch mind which takes me down a rabbit hole of strategizing. I can’t half-way get my foot into a project. That means I immerse myself in whatever the top priority is at the moment.
What’s your most embarrassing professional faux pas?
I do embarrassing things all the time. Just last week, we were setting up for an important meeting. I was wearing a dress and my heel catches on the rug and I fall hard on the carpet to the point where I get bad rug burn on my knee.
So, I do this entire presentation with my knee totally bleeding to a room of 15 people. It’s probably even weirder that I didn’t even comment on the fact my knee was bleeding. It was full-on blood. I'm probably going to have a permanent scar from this thing because I have a giant scab on my knee right now. I’m collecting emotional scars with my physical ones. I’ve also fallen on a treadmill in front of an entire crowded gym, doesn’t qualify as a “professional” faux pas though. Just a regular day for me. This is why I don’t do sports.
Has there ever been a situation where speaking up would harm your career?
I can say I’ve had the luxury of working at some pretty awesome places with pretty awesome people but I know I’m the exception.
There have definitely been times I’ve thought to myself, “that’s not appropriate.” For example, someone will say I’m not the right person to work on a project because I'm female and they need to have somebody who is male on there. But, if you’ve already proven yourself as capable on a particular client, that should speak for itself. And, I've proven myself by doing really well on my projects, so I shouldn't have to take up a lot of extra energy making a case for myself. That's where it gets irritating to me because I’ve already done a great job, so there’s not really an argument to be had.
But, I think I’ve had the protection of being places that aren't like that for most of my career.
Are you creatively fulfilled?
In a lot of ways, no. To be honest, it’s not as much about creative fulfillment. I still get fulfillment, but not the kind I'd get working hands-on in a flow-state. There’s a different kind of enjoyment in that.
But, the coaching of others and getting teams to the point where their work is better than what I would have ever done is a whole different type of fulfillment. That’s what is fulfilling to me now.
I also love figuring out how to get clients to understand why an idea is so awesome. That’s a lot of my job. How do we help them understand and be comfortable with this idea? How do you make something that feels creative and different not feel like a bad move from a client perspective? There’s a problem to solve. That’s not in the traditional realm of creative fulfillment either, but it is fulfilling.
So, June Cleaver is Dead. What have you been up to lately?
With June Cleaver is Dead, we're bringing people in through the strategy door and laddering that back to creative.
We have this thing called the Motherboard which is a panel of 1000 moms who we use as a well of knowledge when it comes to moms and the valuable insights we can learn from them. It's a way to get input on brands, products, and their communications. That's been a really valuable resource to us and our clients so far. It’s quite new and we’re just developing it as this agency resource within our agency.
Skyler Mattson, the managing director here, and I launched this out of a need to create something more formal to address marketing to moms in an authentic way. As moms and as marketers, we don’t see a lot of advertising out there that do that well. That's irritating, both personally and professionally. It’s also dumb because marketers spend a lot of money on that target.
What are some common barriers to creating diverse work?
What I am hoping for is better language around what diversity means. It doesn’t necessarily mean throwing an Asian person in there or whatever. There are a lot of different ways into diversity and ways to be diverse. It's awesome when we have clients who are like-minded and come to us with that perspective. But, that's not always the case. So, we do try and make sure we're pushing with the knowledge that our clients aren’t necessarily where we are yet.
People aren’t necessarily having honest conversations around why they decided to say no to a particular recommendation. But, sometimes it’s because they think that's not their job. They’re trying to sell X product, not necessarily trying to make a statement. But, a lot of the time, those things are related.
You have two minutes to speak uninterrupted.
Here's one thing I work on with my creatives that I try to practice myself. We all have a lot of big aspirations, but a severe lack of follow through and understanding of what it takes to get those things done. Or, sometimes as a creative, you think getting it done is someone else's job. Both in our personal lives and in our work for clients or in our side project. Coming up with a great idea or having a really aspirational goal for yourself is not enough. You need to break that down into what you need to do to make it happen. Acknowledge the work, effort, and resources involved. Get a plan in order. Commit yourself.
I’m guilty of this, which is why I’m talking about it. Every year is a disappointment of the things that I haven’t done yet that I wanted to. My life is a constant pursuit of trying to achieve more of those things and helping others do that, too.
Pam Fujimoto is Executive Creative Director of WONGDOODY LA, where she started the Wongtern internship program, launched the Women in Advertising scholarship, led a refresh of the agency identity, and helped WONGDOODY win an Ad Age’s Small Agency of the Year award, twice. Pam is also co-founder of the site JuneCleaverIsDead.com, which explores how marketers can better understand and connect with moms today. She is also the proud mother and co-wrangler of nine-year old identical twin boys.