10 questions with... Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals

Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals

The Drum speaks to people across the global media and marketing sector who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what little insights they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions With... features Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals.

What was your first ever job?

Delivering 'direct mail' on a Saturday afternoon at $3 an hour (£1) around the streets of Dunedin, New Zealand, at the age of 13. Rock ‘n’ roll.

Why did you get into advertising?

In 1999, I was paid £21K as a sub editor at an interiors magazine. At the time, the mantra was ‘content is king’ and to attract over writers, journalists were in high demand. My starting salary at Ogilvy Interactive was £42k. Double the salary in one career move? Connect with an audience of millions (and not just thousands)? Work at on the internet frontline? Yes.

The excitement around being the first team out at Ogilvy’s new offices Canary Wharf and part of the shaping a new era of communication was magnetic. While at Ogilvy, I discovered the difference between ‘content’ and ‘copy’, coached by peer Dave Shearer.

What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about the marcomms sector?

Its ability for transformation and reinvention, particularly in the digital space (my heartland). Over the years, we’ve watched the rise and dive of many platforms and technologies (tripping down memory lane here with Bebo, MySpace, FourSquare, QR codes, holograms, video banner ads, overlay advertising, crowd-sourcing, UGC, etc).

Some parts of the industry (not all) have been instrumental with redefining the future with experimentation. The way technology and creativity continuously collude and collide to innovate is endlessly surprising. I can’t wait to see what AI will bring us.

With a diversity lens, the most surprising thing I’ve discovered is a resistance to deeply, truly change. As human beings we resist what is uncomfortable. We need to have difficult conversations and understand why certain groups progress. And why some groups don’t. Without this change, this industry will fail to evolve in a way that includes all our audiences.

What have you learned from any mistakes you’ve made in your career?

One of my biggest mistakes wasn't to ‘own’ my identity when it mattered. Or set up Creative Equals earlier. Throughout my career, I’ve experienced bias first-hand.

Here’s one example. When my children were young, I found the only way to cut my work around their school calendar was to freelance. After years of freelancing, I wanted a full-time job. Then I saw the bias of (male) executive creative directors and chief creative officers first hand. I’ve been to a number of job interviews where my choice to freelance (and inability to ‘stay in a job for a length of time’) has been questioned. Answer with the truth. The glaze descends. The interviewer checks out.

Or I’ve had the question: ‘how do you handle the pitch nights with your children?’ (Er, my partner looks after them). And: ‘what are your childcare arrangements?'. I was too worried about building my career and creating bridges to speak up and to call out these comments.

Which campaign, created by someone else, do you most admire?

It has to be the ‘Laundrette’ ad by Sir John Heggarty, then art director and Barbara Noakes, copywriter for Levis. I know, I know, it is the most iconic ad ever. But the truth – that not many know – is it was written based on Barbara’s real life experience and fantasy. A junior copywriter, an older not-so-attractive man came into a launderette and did exactly that. She imagined what that would look like if he were hot. This ad is her daydream. I see her as one of the women who is in the ad – the one looking over her spectacles.

What is the most exciting thing about your job?

Making real progress and creating real change, like landing a returner a job. Or reading an email after our classes where people are gaining breakthroughs they’ve have waited their whole careers for. We love – with our partners The Hobbs Consultancy – giving those who haven’t had a voice, the stage on DiverseMinds, our neurodiversity conference.

We’ve put 1,200 people through our night school. We’ve put many women in the press, on juries, on awards stages and the next thing they’re smashing the ceiling.

We see a huge demand for female creative directors and salaries increasing for those at the bottom. The best part is the biggest change of all. We love seeing companies open their eyes to their own shop floor – and change as a consequence. That is where shift needs to happen. All these things are why l get up in the morning.

If you were hosting an industry panel who would be your ideal line up?

Siri and Alexa.

Or Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive, WPP, Marc Pritchard, chief marketing officer at P&G and Steve Hatch, chief executive, Facebook UK, on the future of advertising agencies. If P&G is losing 50% of its agencies, then clearly something isn’t working.

Best book you have ever read?

Impossible choice. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, The Bone People, Keri Hulme. The Handmaid’s Tale (and anything by Margaret Atwood). A God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy. Of late, Inclusive Workplace Culture. Yes, the title belies a great read.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Proceed until apprehended.

10 Questions With... will return next week.

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