“Let us have a real talk”: Beyond the Brief featuring Jewell Donaldson of Leo Burnett

Leo Burnett copywriter Jewell Donaldson

On stage or in the pitch room, the best performers all share this sense of stage presence, something wholly apparent when talking about Leo Burnett copywriter Jewell Donaldson.

For over two years, Donaldson has been adding dimension for some of the agency’s top clients. Her hits (so far): a worthwhile look at black businesses and individuals for Allstate. An honestly delightful digital campaign for Jello snacks. A powerful reminder from Chicago AIDS Foundation that protection saves love (and lives). The latter campaign was named Chicago’s “Best Ad Campaign” by the Chicago Reader. This should be of no surprise for all those who’d seen Jewell’s talent before she broke in.

Donaldson is an alum of the industry-revered Marcus Graham Project’s iCR8 Bootcamp, a summer-long thinktank of diverse individuals who create their own agency — and solutions for their client partners. As part of the micro-agency PRISMATIC, she and her teammates traveled the country for agency and client immersions, and created content and brand ideas for national and regional brands in north Texas.

In addition to her time with MGP, Donaldson’s skills have recieved honors from the One Club’s “Here Are All the Black People” and One Screen Film Festival. Her overall passion for the industry and super-high ceiling was recognized in the form of the Bill Sharp Award for the Future of Advertising. Every year, one applicant who best exemplifies Sharp’s legacy of elevating the industry for all is awarded with tools necessary to further their craft—something that will only help Donaldson jettison to new heights.

An aspirant adwoman who lives and breathes her own effervescent brand of #BlackGirlMagic, Donaldson keeps dope alive by living beyond the brief.

What was your proudest career moment?

The day I sold in my first campaign, I believed I could fly that day. It was the baby genius I created and gestated, groomed, buffed, shined and presented without compromise. That inaudible, electric massage of agreement that happens when an idea is infusing with everyone’s imagination in the room—and they believe in the concept— is a truly unparalleled affect of adulation. The first time I did that is still my proudest moment thus far because it affirmed my vision and my voice and gave me confidence to continue in advertising.

Who or what influenced you to get into advertising?

A movie. Well, a TV show and then a movie. I would watch Bewtiched and thought Darrin had a cool job, but didn’t realize it could be MY job. It wasn’t until Boomerang was released in 1992 that I found paragons who looked like me. I wanted to emulate Halle Berry’s “eclecticness” and marveled at Robin Givens’ executive power. They weren’t perfect, but the idea of what they represented is still #GOALS for me. And the fact that Boomerang is the only modern depiction of diverse AdLife is why its influence is still unseated for me.

What should we be talking about in 2017?

We should be talking about how sexy self-awareness is on a brand and how consumers love it when companies snap out of their self-delusion and interact with them (human beings) authentically. Let’s discuss how these appropriative ads will NOT stand in 2017 and how possibly nothing is more preventable than a :60 spot mowing down 60 years of social progress. And let us have a real talk: the various interpretations of diversity, for as it turns out “diversity” applies to more than white women and the one-off Brazilian.

What’s your passion outside of advertising?

I have a passion for perfumery and the scintillating art of tantalizing the olfactory senses. Although I have always enjoyed a good body oil, scented body cream or eau de something, the obsession didn’t develop until I had to concoct signature fragrances for my personal hair care line. The ability to craft an artifact that signals memories stronger than any other sense(!), is high-powered. The gift of complementing our most primal adaptogens, pheromone, is super-powered. So ya, there are two things I will always do well: write well and smell good.

If your life and career were a biopic, who’d narrate it? Who’d be on the soundtrack?

Biopics aren’t complete with some form of self-aggrandizing, so I would narrate my own tale.

As far as the 2-disc soundtrack, got to have some Marvin Gaye, must have Nina Simone, Flying Lotus, Eartha Kitt, Erykah Badu, Blossom Dearie, Kendrick Lamar, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Sade, James Brown, Vivaldi and a touch of Radiohead… cuz I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo.

Is work too personal or not personal enough at times? Why is that?

When you’re a black female creative, the theme of “the personal is political” is potentially present in every project. Most times, it’s some cute copy here or a feel-good video there. But sometimes, the demo/psychographic hits you where you live. Sometimes the target is you. It’s been those instances, where yeah, now it’s personal and I’m going to give that message all of my might to make it the dopest thing ever done (as long as I’m not spayed). I really don’t know how to be removed. I envy those who are.

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? We’re interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.

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Bennett D. Bennett

I am a NYC-based writer who calls BBDO NY home — putting copy together for major brands (and fiction for myself and others) and pushing for more inclusive, smarter work environments everywhere. I've previously sat on the ADCOLOR Advisory Board, and currently am a member of AAF's Mosaic Next-Generation Leadership Council and the 4As Steering Committee for High School Initiatives.

All by Bennett D.