Advertising is a team sport

Melissa Cabral of David&Goliath expands on the steps we can take as an industry to inspire real change

by India Fizer , AdForum

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El Segundo, United States
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Melissa Cabral
Head of Strategy David&Goliath

In the latest installment of our ongoing series spotlighting extraordinary women in advertising, we chatted with Melissa Cabral, Head of Strategy at David&Goliath, about breaking barriers to improve diversity, equity and inclusion within the industry.


Can you tell us a bit about your role and your journey to arriving there?

My path to advertising was a very fortunate and very haphazard one. Like other people who find themselves in strategy, I had no idea you could make a living solving problems on behalf of brands. My parents are Filipino immigrants; dad did 21 years in the navy and mom was a nurse. Marketing and advertising were not on the periphery of viable careers. Luckily, while in undergrad, I met a grad student who was enrolled at the VCU Adcenter (now called the Brandcenter at VCU). I had heard of the program but had never met anyone who was actually attending. She would tell me often that I should enroll but it took me three years after graduating undergrad before I finally applied. I was afraid I wouldn’t get in. And I was half-right because I got wait-listed. Ha! But once I was there I threw myself wholeheartedly into the program and have been chasing the high of cracking a good idea ever since.


What barriers do women still face in our industry and how can we challenge them?

God. Where do we even start? I think there are a lot of barriers that have been documented and studied: taking on the lion’s share of household responsibilities, getting opportunities based on past-performance while men get more opportunities based on perceived potential, gender biases, and double standards that shape how our behaviors are interpreted, income inequality. It all feels SO BIG and heavy. But I firmly believe there are two things everyone, but especially women, can do to inspire incremental change: 1. Find your people. Link up with folks you trust who will keep you grounded and sane. Advertising is a team sport and nothing worthwhile gets accomplished in a vacuum. If we’re genuine about changing the industry to be more beneficial to women, we need critical mass to make an idea a reality. 2. Speak your truth and ask for what you want. Confront your inner saboteur, silence the judgments and the doubts, then give yourself the space to be honest about what it is you need and why that’s the case. Once you’ve done the work of realizing what it is you really want you can communicate that with other people and even co-create plans together. 


How do you use your position to build equitable teams that are diverse and balanced?

The obvious answer is to be more mindful of diversity throughout the hiring process. It’s so important and we have a long way to go as an industry. Finding talent is one part of the equation. Nurturing talent is another. I put a lot of intention into creating a supportive environment while maintaining high standards. I was incredibly blessed to have an advocate very early in my career. His name is Earl Cox, CSO emeritus from The Martin Agency, and we still keep in touch. There were times when I felt his belief in me was greater than my belief in myself and it was incredibly motivating. I try to pay that forward by doing the same for my department.


Who are your female advertising icons/role models and why?

Cindy Gallop and Shannon Washington because they have managed to rise through the ranks while being unapologetically themselves. Kristin Cavallo because she’s one of the best strategists in the game, hands down. Her track record suggests she has a Midas touch that makes teams and organizations she’s at better than before.