Emerging Creative Track: Part 2

December 19, 2019

Adia Betts

Adia is a Senior Copywriter based in Atlanta, GA. She’s a proud graduate of both Howard University and The Creative Circus. Outside of advertising, she enjoys: buying Black, practicing yoga, trying to keep her plants alive, reading, going to concerts, collaborating with other creatives, and re-discovering her hometown.

Creativity in the Workplace: How to Turn Pain into Power 

Speaker: Saata Bangura; Design Director for The 3% Conference

Certain themes recur in advertising. Unfortunately, toxicity is one of them.

How many of us have/know stories about work environments that were draining, humiliating, and  just straight up BS? All too often, these stories are met with nothing more than a flippant, “Welcome to Advertising” or covert solidarity shared in hushed tones over stiff drinks. 

It’s not often we’re given practical advice on how to not only deal with our workplace hardships, but overcome them and use them to our advantage. 

That’s where Saata Bangura comes in. 

She’s the current Design Director for The 3% Conference, and one of too many women in Advertising who’ve experienced a negative work environment  myself included. She’s also one of several Black women in our industry I knew through social media but hadn’t connect with IRL. Needless to say, I was excited to be assigned her talk. 

Bangura opened with a not-so-fun fact: 53% of Americans are unhappy at work. Think about it. When you’re walking down the street, one of every two people you pass probably wants to punch their boss and/or a coworker(s) in the face. And being that workplace fisticuffs are frowned upon, advice on how to navigate choppy waters in the office were much appreciated. 

First, Bangura suggested we learn to identify red flags that indicate a bad work environment. You know, things like sexism, racism, homophobia, a variety pack of microaggressions, and even “energy vampires.” She even emphasized that a sign that you may be in a bad place is if you recognize that you’re “limiting your visibility in an effort to cope.” Notice if you’re not speaking up or contributing just to keep the peace. That’s a no-go.

And why would we be trying to “cope”? Well, because we have jobs to do. Jobs which already require long hours and demanding work. Being othered, mistreated, left out, or vilified can “take a toll on your ability to do your job,” according to Bangura. 

However, she offered a silver-lining: there are ways to change the norm and protect ourselves, all while being good at our jobs. Her advice was as follows:

  1. “Establish boundaries.” We all have the right, and dare I say obligation, to teach people how they are and aren’t allowed to treat us. In my head, I called this section, “What you not gon’ do…”
  2. “Prioritize self-care.” In an effort to take over the ad world, we often lose sight of what adds light to our lives. Meditate. Take that class or trip. Have side projects. Shit, take a nap once in a while. Just don’t rely on your job to fill you with the light that only your passions can provide. Yes, napping can be a passion.
  3. “Challenge your company to dismantle systems in place that aren’t creating a safe place for all people.” This is where Bangura encouraged the hard part: broach people appropriately and hold people accountable. I have my own personal opinions about the feasibility of such when the majority of leadership looks like they stepped out of the same vintage LL Bean catalog. (No shade to LL Bean. I definitely had one of those bougie backpacks in middle school.) We all know the powers-that-be aren’t known for accepting constructive feedback as it pertains to their own discriminatory behaviors. But you have to try. Please try. 
  4. “Practice gratitude.” Bangura encouraged the audience to ask themselves, “What is this experience forcing me to understand and realize?” I’m a firm believer that you learn a ton about yourself when everything is going poorly. Personally, I found my greatest strength in the midst of my worst professional experience. 
  5. “If you’ve exhausted all your resources, it’s not worth it. Get out.” Bangura reminded us of a simple fact that we all tend to forget: you can find another job. I’m Southern and live by idioms; one of my favorite being “one monkey don’t stop no show.” Find another job or create your own. It’s 2019, opportunity is everywhere. 

Some of us in the room were hearing this advice for the first time. And others, well, we needed the reminder. Either way, Bangura concluded with the best example of how we can turn pain into purpose: “I’m currently giving the talk that I needed to hear earlier in my career.”

When preparing this piece, I was conversing with a fellow creative who made a relevant point. He said, “There’s going to be so many reasons not to do a thing, but then there’s one great reason to keep going. Because that one reason is going to start a ripple effect that’s going to grow into something even bigger than we imagined.”

I believe that’s what Bangura wanted us to know that our greatest successes are just on the other side of our greatest pains, if we let them be. I believe that’s what she wanted her past self to know too. 

And Saata, I’m sure your past self is super proud of you today. 

Next Creative Leaders 

Laurel Stark Akman; Creative Director, Hi Road 
Kasia Karolak; Gender Equality Program Manager, The One Club for Creativity 

Marie-Clarie Maalouf; Creative Director, BBDO Dubai; The Mutilated Words 
Caro Rebello; Creative Director, McCann NY; The Refugee Nation 
Mariana Oliveira; Associate Creative Director, BBDO NY; The NY Times - Truth is Hard 
Brynna Alyward; Associate Creative Director, Redfuse NY; Respect Her 


All of the next creative leaders on stage, looking all conspiratorial

This was one of my favorite panels from all of conferences I’ve attended. The room was energized as four of the ten winners of The One Club’s “Next Creative Leaders” shared their award-winning work, as well as their inspirations, challenges, and more. These women shared some of the most smart and encouraging work I’ve seen recently. Personally, I needed this.

Moderators were the Creative Director of Hi Road, Laurel Stark Akman, and Gender Equality Program Manager for The One Club, Kasia Karolak. 

Things opened with Caro Rebello, Creative Director at McCann New York and the person behind the campaign “The Refugee Nation.” Actually, it was a movement. Rebello and her team gave refugees competing in the 2016 Olympic Games a collective flag and voice, and their fans and supporters a way to rally behind their favorite athletes. 

Long before creating “The Refugee Nation,” Rebello and her partner both moved to the U.S. from Brazil with the intention to make impactful work. “We have so many resources here. Why not use them for good?” And when the opportunity presented itself, the team proactively took on the fight to bring visibility to these displaced competitors. She called the campaign an “exercise in empathy,” noting that people tend to forget that refugees “have the same dreams, needs and fears as us.” As simple as that seems, a swift look around society will tell you that this message could never be reiterated too much. 

Next, Marie-Clarie Maalouf shared her campaign “The Mutilated Words.” There’s no easy way to broach a conversation about female genital mutilation (FGM), but Maalouf did it in a way that captivated the audience. Maalouf joined us from Dubai where she’s the Creative Director at BBDO. As she spoke about FGM, I reflected on my own privileges acknowledging the many advantages of simply being born in the Western world.

FGM affects nearly 100 million women and girls worldwide. Currently, it’s extremely common in about 30 countries, mostly in Africa, but also in the Middle East, Asia, and even some parts of Europe. Maalouf’s campaign focused on Egypt, where about 70% of women are affected. The procedure is often performed to “help” the girls and women. The practice is regarded as something that makes girls “clean” and preserves virginity.

Maalouf stated that the most important goal was educating people not only the parents of young girls, but also the doctors who were now performing the mutilation for people. “People didn’t know that it’s illegal and dangerous,” Maalouf recounted. “The thought was to give people something tangible that they could connect with.” With local NGOs and the Ministry of Health, they utilized Zero Tolerance Day to launch the message.

The next part of her talk is where I got into my feels. Maalouf was asked, “Do you have any advice on trusting the creative process?” Calmly she said, “Creativity has to do with you growing yourself and getting rid of everything that is limiting you. The more you limit yourself, the less creative you are.” She shared how studying different practices and subjects lead her to restructure. “Tune into something that is higher than you...be an instrument for something that is greater than you. When you become at service, the universe will help you... people will show up, answers will show up. When you become a force of good, it will manifest through your creativity.” Let the church say, “Girl, yes!”

In 2017, Brynna Alyward left her first 3% Conference “inspired to make the world a better place for women” and soon sparked the idea for “Respect Her.” This campaign was a “Valentine’s Day hack” where men (and women) could send personalized greeting cards that took a stand against sexual harassment and reframed “respect as a prerequisite for love.” Alyward, an Associate Creative Director at Redfuse New York, went on to embark on what she called “the hardest 3 and a half weeks of my life.” 

Endless dedication is what drove Alyward because she repeatedly received no’s, had to cold call producers and directors, and at one point, did an all-call to the agency for reinforcements. “The help was there when I felt like I was drowning. It was the passion of those people that kept this going and me going.” If anything, Alyward was a lesson in tenacity. 

“The creative is the problem solving. And be humble...know that you’ll need help from someone who’s an expert,” she said. Again, something we all needed to hear, because simply asking for help can be almost impossible. Yet, Alyward reminded us that asking for help can be the difference between failure and your biggest success.

Rounding up the panel was Mariana Oliveira, an Associate Creative Director at BBDO NY and the lead creative behind the “Truth is Hard” campaign for The New York Times. As such a polished and well-executed campaign, it’s been assumed that "Truth is Hard” stemmed from a huge budget, an airtight brief, and a hand-selected team. But it was quite the opposite.

“There was no budget. We spent Super Sunday creating rip content to get the idea across. We harassed The New York Times to use journalists’ photos from the ground. We did everything on our own time.” With persistence, Oliveira and her partner secured editing space from The Mill, and even snagged Darren Aronofsky to direct. Friends in other countries conducted interviews with NYT journalists on their behalf. Oliveira and company simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Show how committed you are to the idea and it will inspire people to support you...passion creates passion.”

Q&A from the audience started strong: “Do you feel like this was your peak moment and have to compare everything to this work? Are you in competition to yourself? Are you always going to be judged by this?” Alyward offered: “Once the bar is higher, the work gets better.” Then there was a question about the sustainability of working at such a demanding, high-stress pace, to which Maalouf gave another need-to-hear answer: “When we design our lives in such a way that we rid yourself of distractions, patterns, and emotions that take away time from us, we can really do anything that we want...you sustain anything that you want to sustain. What you believe, you will manifest.” Asé to that. 

All in all, I walked away energized by how these creatives shaped their ideas into beautiful, effective, and just damn good work. I’ll leave you with something Akman said earlier in the presentation: “It helps to hear the story behind the work and for leadership to be generous with their behind the scenes stories. Be honest and generous with your stories because those deserve to be celebrated.” 

And y’all, I sure felt like I was in a celebration on that Thursday afternoon. Consider my edges snatched.

Why More CCOs Should Become CEOs 

Speakers: Kat Gordon in place of Judy John and Rob Schwartz - CEO TBWA\CHIAT\DAY NY 

Kat and Rob chilling out on stage, having some laughs

As a creative, I’m already biased when I see titles like this on the agenda. I think a creatives’ worst nightmare is an “account driven shop” where creatives’ perspectives are rarely prioritized. So when the title said, “Why More CCOs Should Become CEOs,” I was like “damn right they should.” 

Anywho, Kat Gordon sat in for Judy John (who couldn’t participate due to an injury. Hope you’re well, Judy) to speak with Rob Schwartz who had done just what the talk title had suggested. He’s the current CEO of TBWA\CHIAT\DAY New York and former Chief Creative Officer among other things. 

Schwartz began with an honest observation. He recalled that when he was CCO, he’d reached a point in his career where he felt like he was drifting and unsure of his next move. That’s when he was encouraged to consider a position as CEO. So he created a plan, a “creative person’s business plan” to be exact. Schwartz thought about leaders he admired: the Jay Chiats, Bill Bernbachs, and Mary Wells’ of the world, you know, creatives that ran/run agencies. 

And not just ad people. He noted Jay-Z and Quincy Jones as other leaders he held in high regard. So Schwartz pushed aside any reluctance and focused on “the power of being able to influence stuff.” And what creative doesn’t want to influence stuff?

Now, the idea of being the boss always sounds like fun, until you have to do boss shit. So Gordon simply asked, “Do you like it?” Schwartz recalled being a Junior Copywriter and loving his job even when he didn’t have influence. And now, as CEO, it’s just as good, but this time, he gets the whole pie instead of just a slice. “You have everything...the agency is the assignment. Running a business is a creative act.” 

Schwartz admitted that being CEO demands he rewire some of his instincts as a creative. He no longer needed to be the person doing all the speaking. In turn, he was now responsible for setting others up to win. When asked what advice he’d give young creatives with sights on the C-suite, Schwartz encouraged them to become indispensable and to look at things holistically. He urged the audience to have “an enterprise mindset.” “That’s your first moment of leadership - a mindset of enterprise.” 

“Think like an owner,” said Gordon.

“Take some classes,” responded Schwartz. (Shout out to him for putting me on to Khan Academy). To successfully transition from creative to CEO, you have to know the money side of things, you have to know how and when to make sacrifices, and you just have to know how a business does and doesn’t work. 

The conversation shifted to culture, which for many creatives is a ridiculous word because it often means hiring people who look and think like the leadership. Schwartz admitted that as a leader “you owe it to yourself to expand yourself. Your first company is the company of you. You’re going to be able to contribute more.” Gordon and Schwartz went back and forth about the importance of diversity.  All-too-many people in the industry still struggle with the concept, but if nothing else, they should know that “diversity equals money.” And who doesn’t like money? If you can’t hire diversity for moral and fair reasons, at least hire in an effort to just do good business. Y’all don’t hear me. But I digress…

Questions from the audience prompted other major points such as seeing negativity as an opportunity to grow. “Gratitude is the attitude,” mused Schwartz. One audience member, a woman, spoke about how a colleague, another woman, discouraged her from attending the talk because she felt as if aspiring to be a CEO was pointless. To which Schwartz offered, “Look at the progress. Women are IN advertising. It’s harder for middle aged white men  don’t feel bad, we had a good run. The moment is now. Have your stuff together that enterprise thinking. Ask for things.”

And with that, Schwartz inspired what I hope will be future CCOs, CEOs, HWIC (head women in charge) and straight up quality leaders. Seeing white men take up space at a conference about diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t exactly excite me, but when they use that platform to say something worthwhile and necessary, I regain a little bit more hope for the future of our beloved industry. 

Agency to Client Side: Real Talk From Creatives 881

Mara Lecocq - Brand & Community Director, Fishbowl
Jason Luster - ECD Google Cloud
Xanthe Wells - Sr. Dir. & Global ECD, Devices & Services, Google 

Kat and Rob

“According to a poll on Fishbowl, 60% of people on the agency side are considering the brand side,” said Mara Lecocq, Brand and Community Director of the polarizing, yet popular social platform for advertising professionals.

As a Copywriter who’s worked both agency and in-house jobs, I definitely understand the appeal of in-house. Experiences within agency walls can cause some wondering eyes. However, we all know that client side has to work uphill against the stereotypes of being less creative, less fun, and less capable. The truth is, you never truly know what it’s like working for a brand until you hear it directly from someone who’s experienced both sides of the coin. So Jason Lester and Xanthe Wells, both at Google, shared with moderator Lecocq their truths about the differences between working for agencies and brands. 

One of the first differences Wells noticed was the age diversity, saying, “I thought I was going to get aged out in this industry.” Better work/life balance was a refreshing change as well. Luster noted a shift from being “a sprinter to a marathon runner,” stating that being on brand side means you have to see problems all the way through. “You really have to have a vision because you’re responsible for the life of the brand.” 

That segued the conversation to how brands’ day-to-day operations differ from agencies’.  There’s just so much you don’t see or know when you’re working at an agency, especially if you’re only so high up on the decision-making chain. We’ve all felt the frustration of projects that fizzle into the ether, or feedback that seems to contradict all logic. On the brand side, you’re able to be closer to the who, what, when, where and why, and that makes effectiveness much more feasible. According to Wells, she’s able to take advantage of a more informal approach because she has a direct relationship with the people behind the decisions. That’s the difference between working with a “client” versus a “colleague.” Luster agreed wholeheartedly. “The side/internal conversations are so rich...you know everything.”

Luster also prioritized seeing agencies as partners. He strives to eliminate the traditional agency/client dynamic, allowing everyone to work towards the greater good of the project, instead of the individual interests of each respective organization. “There are legitimate creatives on both sides  we’re better together.” You hear that agency creatives? Stop treating brand creatives like some cross-town rival.

Now, it’d be remiss of me if I didn’t emphasize that both of these panelists work for Google. Google is Google, not the financial institution or local giant that may still be struggling to let go of deep-seated conservative ways of conducting business. Simply because of the organization they work for, Wells and Luster have access to in-house learning and classes, the latest and greatest in technology and resources, and in general, an environment that not only welcomes innovation, but depends on it. Their experiences are not universal for brand side or agency careers. However, certain parts of their experiences can be translated to any work environment. 

For example, creatives transitioning to managerial positions in-house need to be fully aware of what their new titles entail. “It was a growth experience to have to manage people,” said Wells. “Unless you LOVE working with other people, then brand side isn’t for you. You have to be a people person and like working with them all day.”

“I’ve learned not to hire assholes. Sometimes that happens   the people are brilliant, but you’re only as good as your team. It’s so important not to have toxic people,” says Luster. That is definitely true for ALL sides of the business. I’m not sure why people still need to be reminded of this fact, but just in case it still hasn’t sunk in: don’t hire assholes. 

Overall, the main message was having a collaborative spirit, and practicing honest and open communication. I often think about how we forget that relationships between client and agency, or employee and boss, are still interpersonal relationships. They require the same boundaries, honesty, respect, and communication that any relationship demands in order to be healthy. But our industry has allowed for so much mess when it comes to how we handle each other, that we have to be intentional about our re-learning and un-doing. 

“Talking to the people on the other side is so important. Sometimes you just need to sync with the other people. You see great things when you blur the lines,” said Luster. Wells added, “we have to push ourselves to be honest about our needs.” Sounds like a relationship to me. 

Lecocq closed things with, “Hiring is important. Can you talk about what you are looking for...does it differ agency side vs. client side?” And it felt like the same criteria reigns true no matter where you go. Some of the answers were:

“Someone that gets along with people.”

“People who can take the ball and run with it.”

“A great book.” 

“Can you work in a collaborative environment?”

Sounds to me like brand side is really on to some things, and that 60% of people should explore those brand-side opportunities. It’s a different world, but one that can be equally satisfying and creative. And depending on where you go, there may be far fewer assholes.