The Cindy Gallop XX Files: Creative conflict and sexual advances
In the second of the Cindy Gallop XX Files, the series where women offer their first hand experience of working in advertising, marketer Amy Witkop offers her memories of a business trip with an agency and her experiences within male dominated creative departments.
I was super excited to work for this agency and felt like I had finally made it. The men at the top of the agency seemed sensitive and understanding. In the end it was no different than anywhere else I had worked.
On a business trip with our CEO, we met with a few potential new clients and in the end we were sitting in the airport waiting for our separate flights, he back to Vermont and me back to Oregon. We were talking about different clients and how we’d won this work or that work and he said “You know sometimes with all male groups that are older, we bring Jane along and they all fall in love and hire us.” I wasn’t sure if that meant I wasn’t attractive enough? Or what it meant. I didn’t say anything in response.
At a client meeting at our headquarters, we had their three lead agencies in town for a collaboration event, us – the brand agency, the digital agency, the advertising agency, and the client. The other two agencies brought all guys. The client had one woman and four guys. We had three guys, my boss (a woman), and me. We all went out to dinner, drinks, and then some weird Vermont bar. Toward the end of the night the lead creative guy from their ad agency, who is particularly handsome and charismatic, asked me back to his room. I said dude “You’re married and I’m gay.” He replied, “My wife understands” and then asked, “How about we just do mutual masturbation.” What!?
The next day I confided in my boss about what had happened and she said to me “Actually I’m kind of jealous that he asked you and not me.” What?! That was the end of the conversation. Afterwards I recounted this story to many other people in my life and all were greatly disturbed by the offer. Every time I saw him after that event I was on guard. He acted like it had never happened.
When I asked for more money because of the workload I was carrying, bringing in and managing more than $2.5m a year, my boss said to me “You are our highest paid account director, other than Thomas, but Thomas has a family.” Thomas also used to work the account I now worked and did not double the revenue in the first year like I did.
When I was finally promoted and the news came out over email. I was alone in the office with the male creative director, sitting at a tall table in the middle of the room. He came up behind me scratched my back and hugged me awkwardly, because my arms were stiff by my side. We had never touched before and I blurted out “Please don’t touch me.” It was challenging to work together after that.
While I am consistently saying male creative director here, there were no female creative directors in this agency, there never have been.
After winning an account for a women’s sports brand our male creative director continuously said “Women love this brand because it makes their ass look great.” I asked him if he thought that was sexist or rude, because I certainly didn’t think that. He said “Yeah, you’re not the demographic.”
One guy could barely use a computer and had to wear clogs in the office, switching out of his boots that he wore outside upon entering the building. He also believed he could channel James Morrison from the Doors and had to read two newspapers before he could do any work. He lasted six miserable months. We’d go to a client meeting and be scheduled for 3-5 hours in a row. He would complain that he wasn’t going to get lunch. “I’m not getting lunch either!”
What was I? “I was a bitch. Insensitive. Be nicer when you critique the creative. Don’t be so demanding.” I always felt as if they were projecting their mother onto me. Any disappointment I showed, they bashed back at me with some flippant comment about how hard their job was. “Give me a fucking break. You’re making three times what I make and I’m pushing you to work. Just work already!”
In the end, I was fired after another male creative director was hired in my office and was failing on the account. This was the same guy who thought women wanted their asses to look great. They decided to go a “new direction”. That new direction was into the toilet. He was gone within six months after I was. A year later they were no longer the agency of record for that client. Ultimately, the agency is now rebranded and a completely different business model and name. I do hope it is one more suited to the men in their business.
Looking back now. I should have left, but I couldn’t see it for what it was. I thought I had made it and that was more important to me at the time. I now understand that’s how it is in the agency world and my self-worth is more important than having “made it”.
I choose not to work in the industry anymore and do my own rainmaking for myself.