Three female creative directors – SheSays' 'Reindeers' from 2017 – recap the highs and the lows of their years climbing the agency ladder.
Catherine Hope, creative director at Sunshine
As a creative at the end of 2016, I was struggling to find my place in an industry I didn’t feel I fit into. I just didn’t want to work in advertising as we know it. Alongside this I was still building my confidence as a leader. I’m a lot more fearless now, but I also feel like I can be more ambitious and expansive with how I define ‘creative’, and at a place like Sunshine, that changes on a daily basis. For me it’s less about characterising or defining it, and more about being able to evolve it constantly.
My biggest challenges professionally mostly involve the scale and ambition of the work I’m doing, as well as the mental shift required when working in an entertainment company. I'm doing new things every day so I need to constantly reinvent and learn fast on the job. Building trust and relationships at the highest client levels are also intensely crucial, as well as dynamically playing multiple roles at work, as it’s the only way to keep things together.
I’ve also encountered unconscious bias. People don’t assume I can do the job and I've had to work incredibly hard to prove and justify my place. But I’ve maintained resilience and positivity and have surrounded myself with a solid support network – whether that’s access to an incredible executive team who have given me air cover when I’ve needed it to nice coffee chats outside of the office to get some outside perspective. There is nothing that a brownie can’t solve. Ali [Hanan] from Creative Equals has also generously given ample advice and opportunity.
Looking forward I’m positive, but not complacent, about the changing position of women in the creative industries. There is a long way to go, especially for women of colour.
Caroline Paris, creative director at Brave
This time last year I had just stepped up into my creative director role at Brave. It was new, I felt a bit apprehensive, but the challenge was there and I knew I could do it. A year later, Brave has had its most commercially and creatively successful year in its history and I have been part of a team and agency who have all worked incredibly hard to bring on board some excellent new talent, clients and create even better work – which was the goal.
The biggest challenge for me has no doubt been the transition into leadership. I have worked my way up through the ranks of Brave for the last five years, and 12 months ago was promoted into the role of creative director. My fear wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, but that my peers and colleagues would think that I couldn't do it. However three months into the role, I realised it was a trivial concern. I already had the support and respect of everyone because of what I had already done to get there, and it was fear that only existed in my head, no-one else’s.
By doing the things that have challenged me, such as speaking at Creative Social, judging awards and putting myself into the industry limelight, I have become a much stronger, bolder and opinionated creative and leader, which has been professionally and personally more rewarding than I could have imagined. I have been lucky enough to be part of the Creative Equals and I'm also surrounded by some really supportive members of the senior team at Brave: people who believe in me, listen to me, but still give me sound advice when I need it.
I believe it’s a really exciting time to be a female in the creative industry. This year I have reached a stage in my career where I have been offered more opportunities than ever to speak, judge and be recognised as a creative leader on wider platforms. And while it can be scary to take on the new challenges those things bring – we, as female creatives, have to take the leap and do it. If we don’t, we aren’t doing our bit to be seen as role models, share our point of view and do our part to help create that change too.
Jade Tomlin, creative director at Tribal Worldwide
At the end of 2017 I was absolutely pumped. I’d been working in the role of creative director for a few years and wasn’t too fussed about gaining the official title, until I realised actually respecting your own goals was kind of an important thing. I earned the official title this year, which I’m really proud about. Many will say titles don't matter but when you stick around long enough to truly earn a big shift in position you feel different in yourself, more motivated and you start to believe you can have a bigger impact on the business.
One challenge I’ve encountered year after year has been building truly meaningful relationships with the accounts team and clients. There have been times when it has been awkward in a meeting, and you can’t help but wonder: is it because I’m a woman, is it my way of life or is it my educational background? The truth is a lot of the time you don’t really know for sure. You just have to except some will embrace different better than others. (Unless it’s blatant discrimination; you then have to channel your inner Cindy Gallop and fight back in those situations.)
My career coach once said to me, “Don’t care so much”, which has stayed with me. I think sometimes when you really want a project or situation to work out, you can get blinded with ambition, and you have to take a step back and accept it might not happen this time. There might be a bigger battle you need to work towards.
I now have a bunch of industry friends globally (some of which are male, most are female) who I trust and can talk to at any point. This has been invaluable. These grassroots networks have formed a unique and fun bond among a diverse mix of people. My executive creative director, Victoria Buchanan, has also taught me how to work in new ways as creativity evolves. She thinks like an artist and supports women within these networks. She’s been a great role model.
In fact, over the last year I’ve been lucky enough to meet a wealth of intelligent, funny, creative, female leaders on the rise. Some are reshaping agencies, creating award-winning work and others starting new impactful initiatives. So, I feel confident there are women out there who are not only going to rock the industry, but they are gearing up to rock the world.