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Colle + McVoy’s new ECD Laura Fegley talks freelancing, diversity and leaving New York

Laura Fegley

After spending more than 20 years in New York working at some of the city’s biggest agencies, Laura Fegley recently left her role as executive creative director of BBH NY to take up the same position at Minneapolis agency Colle + McVoy.

While at BBH NY, Fegley oversaw the global Vaseline business and was named one of “The 36 Most Creative Women In Advertising” by Business Insider. Throughout her career, she has freelanced at a number of difference agencies and has held creative director roles at JWT and Cliff Freeman & Partners.

At Colle + McVoy, she will be tasked with helping the agency build out its creative products and presence while managing key global accounts. The agency counts General Mills, The Hershey Company, Target and USA Swimming as clients.

The Drum recently caught up with Fegley to discuss her new role and get her thoughts on freelancing, diversity within the industry and why she’s leaving New York.

Why have you decided to leave New York City for a much smaller market?

I’ve been in New York for over 20 years and it’s funny, New York starts to feel small too after a while. There’s obviously a lot more agencies there, but I’ve always thought of Minneapolis as having a surprisingly large ad community for the size of the market. I think it’s like anything, as you get older, you realize you don’t need 20 places that you love, you just need three places you love. I was in New York for a really, really long time and it seemed like it was time to mix it up, but moving to San Francisco or LA just seemed like slightly different flavors of the same dish. I think the nice thing about Minneapolis is it’s a real city with real cultural things but it definitely feels like a really strong diversion from New York.

Why did you choose Colle + McVoy?

I think the really interesting thing for me about Colle + McVoy is that while it is currently a really successful and thriving business, what I was really attracted to when I started talking to the CEO and the CCO is that they’re very much looking to try to figure out what the next evolution of an ad agency is, and they know that they need to figure it out. I think a lot of agencies are just kind of business as usual, it’s kind of like the dinosaurs right before the meteor hit, so I was really impressed that they are open and are make-it-happen sort of people. It was a rare opportunity I think to come into an agency that already works, so you’re not fixing things, but you still have the ability to put your fingerprint on things and help figure out what it’s going to be in the future. That’s really hard to come by, so I was excited about that.

What’s the most exciting trend you’re seeing in advertising right now?

Honestly, the most exciting thing to me right now is that advertising doesn’t know what it’s going to be. I think five years ago it was pretty clear, you know, just keep having great ideas and coming up with good work. I think it’s really interesting now, especially as media companies are starting to be creators. It’s really pressing the clients too to start evolving faster and iterating faster, which I think is getting us to cool stuff. I think the rise of digital has gotten everybody comfortable with that idea of like, “let’s try stuff, and if doesn’t work, we’ll figure out what worked and what didn’t and we’ll try something new,” which I think is really exciting for brands and for agencies.

There’s a lot of talk about diversity within the industry right now, particularly around the fact that there aren’t enough women in executive-level positions. As a woman in a senior role, what are your thoughts on this?

It’s funny because when I started out in advertising, there were as many women that I went to ad school with as men. Now that I’m older and more senior, we’ve really dropped off in our numbers. You keep seeing this thing generation after generation where there’s a lot of women starting, but then something’s happening and we’re not getting as many of us to the top levels. I think obviously it’s important to have more women represented in senior management, especially on the creative side. I think on the account and planning side we’re doing pretty well; it's on the creative side that there’s an issue. For me, a lot of it is helping to identify some of the things that might have caused some of this drop-off or have been barriers to women getting ahead, and trying to figure out how to avoid that. Because I think there’s a lot of really strong female creative talent out there and it’s funny, even when you talk about senior management positions now, a lot of times you’ll get these calls where they have a “woman slot.” They want to get their one senior female woman. It’s great that they’re making a concerted effort to do that, but it’s a little frustrating that there’s one slot.

You’ve had a nice balance of freelance work and staff positions throughout your career. Do you feel like having that freelance experience is important for creatives?

I’ve never loved freelancing but it’s always been a really great palate cleanser between staff jobs. Obviously when you’re freelancing, you get a little bit more time to travel and take vacations, but it’s also just a nice chance to peek inside of different agencies. You really get behind the curtain pretty fast and you can see what’s working and what’s not working. The perspective of seeing more places really lets you make a “best-of” list in your head of what you think an agency should be. I think it’s beneficial for people to get the experience and I think freelance allows you to get that peek inside of a lot of agencies without having to be on staff and change jobs every year. Something that’s nice also for a period is that while I love client relationships and I love owning brands and really deep diving on them, there is something refreshing about remembering what it is like to just have an assignment and figure out how to crack it and just do that again and again and again. It’s almost like a little bit of a creative boot-camping. It gets you to the pure state of what your job is. Whereas when you’re in management roles, there are lots of other things that are part of your job, and you sometimes can forget that pure act of creation.

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