Back Chat with Ogilvy & Mather's Nicole Yershon: 'Problems are exciting to lunatics like us'

Nicole Yershon, director of innovative solutions at Ogilvy & Mather, chats about industry diversity, fearlessness and why solving problems is all in a day’s work.

So how are you and what’s been keeping you busy?

Ogilvy’s founding partner sponsorship of Digital Shoreditch – not just the Lab Day [the culmination of Ogilvy Labs’ bi-annual ‘semesters of learning’] but also working on the content shopfront pop-up that Social@Ogilvy ran on Bethnal Green Road. On the shopfront we’ve worked with Collider, running workshops for our clients on how they can work better with startups, while also being kept busy getting the Lab Day completed, securing amazing speakers, building a website, communications etc.

What have you been loving recently?

When we do these semesters of learning, I immerse myself in that topic. Because this has been startups, anything that I’ve been reading has been on that topic, such as ‘Start-up Nation’, a book about Israel and why it is such a big power for such a small country.

And do you have any particular gripes at the moment? What’s causing you problems?

Everything causes me problems. That’s the nature of the job. It’s how you then get through it and solve it, because if it was easy everyone would be doing it. That’s why we do things that are never easy. There’s always a problem but that’s exciting to lunatics like us. So when Rory [Sutherland] talks about rogue bees, that is us, looking for another way to do it – a better way. There is something within me that makes me not want to accept the status quo. It doesn’t come from a bad place, it’s just how myself and others around me are wired.

Who inspires you?

For me, it’s anyone that’s decent, kind, honest and fearless. I can have meetings or come into contact with anyone from a waitress at Shoreditch House to Rory to someone who runs Tech City... there’s no hierarchy. You can be the post boy or the CEO, but as long as you have those good traits, that inspires me – staying true to yourself.

Why do you think the ad industry is still struggling with diversity?

I don’t think it’s just the ad industry, I think it’s any large organisation across any industry. I think industries are struggling with culture as well as diversity, so they need to address both. We’ve covered that within Ogilvy with the Rough Diamond programme [a collaboration with the Ideas Foundation, School of Communication Arts, Ravensbourne University, Onedotzero and The Marketing Academy that seeks out talent which might not have made it through traditional recruitment channels] which has been running for five years now.

In companies that are struggling, it’s possibly because they don’t have someone whose measure of success is to make sure that it is working by getting in a different culture. Because I do labs, it was all part and parcel of anything new and innovative.

It came up very early on, about 10 years ago – ‘who are our workforce in the future?’ With technology changing, is it Saint Martins, where they are drawing stuff? No, we need someone to make it. If we’re talking about a mobile app, we need people who will say ‘here it is’. But the people coming out of the schools in the traditional sense weren’t able to do that, so we had to go outside of that realm and a lot of the kids that weren’t going to university were dabbling under the radar in non-Oxbridge type courses – and they were diverse.

So what’s been the biggest challenge of implementing Rough Diamond and diversity?

I think people consciously know it’s right, but the act of doing and implementing is not an easy thing for most – the day job gets in the way. I’m very lucky that Ogilvy has allowed me to do this within my day job.

What’s your last word on the industry?

I would say be fearless. What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t know what you don’t know? Move yourself out of your comfort zone, because that’s when the magic happens. I know that’s quite clichéd but it’s the truth.

This feature was first published in the 10 June issue of The Drum.

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