Jennifer Risi's The Sway Effect

by Dasha Ovsyannikova

Jennifer Risi
Founder and President The Sway Effect
The Sway Effect
New York, United States
See Profile

Spending nine years at Ogilvy and rising to Global CCO, you then founded The Sway Effect last year. What was the inspiration for the Sway Effect after reaching such a senior, prominent role at one of the world’s leading agency networks?

I wanted to create a culture that I knew clients needed, partners wanted and that teams wanted to be a part of.  At the heart of our work we are focused on “swaying” opinion on behalf of our clients and putting diversity, inclusion and equity into everything that we do.  I wanted to create a new kind of agency - one built on collaboration and providing a forum to assemble the best and brightest talent in the industry.  


The Sway Effect is a network of independent agencies. How do you go about selecting partners? How do you collaborate across the network on briefs or pitches that involve more than one agency or discipline?

I have assembled a network of partners based on the highly skilled practitioners that I have worked with over my 20 year career. These are experts in their fields across a wide range of capabilities and from every major media market throughout the world.  Our expertise ranges from PR and Influence and Brand Strategy to Creative and Social Impact to Digital Communications and Research and Measurement to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programming.  

When we get a brief in, we look at what the brand needs to solve their current challenges and then we bring together a highly skilled team of experts to meet their objectives. If we need to add expertise to our network to meet the brief we will. We are always adding new experts to our network of independent agency partners each and every day. 


You seem ready to challenge the establishment and break down barriers. What needs to change in our industry and how will you be part of that shift?

We are breaking down barriers and creating an environment that brings subject matter experts together to execute seamlessly, broad-reaching campaigns on behalf of brands today - across channels, across industries and from anywhere in the world.

Inter-agency partnership is just where the collaborative process for The Sway Effect network begins. Clients don’t have the patience or time to deal with the “process” and “layers” that come from working with big agencies or holding companies. The future of our business is smaller, more nimble teams that serve as the extension of a clients’ internal organization.

We also need to make sure that our teams today are made of talent that truly reflects the customers that we serve. Diversity has never been more important. Diversity in our hiring practices, in our thinking and how we work.

Brands today need the right people sitting at the table alongside them as they face challenges that they have never faced before. That is what makes The Sway Effect model work. 


We’d like to hear more about your work for UN Women and diversity & inclusion overall. What is the group’s focus? How are you helping to keep momentum going on ending sexism and racism

UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The organization was established to accelerate progress and be a global champion for women and girls the world over.  I have been a long time strategic advisor to UN Women and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka since my time at Ogilvy.

I was a member of the team that launched the HeForShe campaign, which invited men around the world to join the movement in supporting women.  We supported actress Emma Watson’s speech that launched the campaign and secured iconic men like President Obama and celebrities such as Russell Crowe and Keifer Sutherland to join the campaign early on.  This campaign truly took the gender equality movement to the mainstream.

Currently we are supporting the Generation Equality campaign, which was launched in 2019, calling for governments, civil society, academia and the private sector to work together to renew their commitment to fight for change.

In addition to UN Women, we work with all of our clients to incorporate DE&I programming into their business strategies.  For example, we work with the 4A’s on initiatives such as Vanguard and MAIP to cultivate the next generation of black leaders in the advertising and marketing community and nonprofit in creating a more inclusive workplace for women across the technology sector. Our day-to-day efforts support leading CEOs, like Signet’s CEO Gina Drosos, to elevate women to make up 50% of the C-Suite and Board.

We are walking the talk each and every day. 


Operationally, in how many countries does the Sway Effect have a presence? Where do you see most potential for growth? 

The Sway Effect is headquartered in New York City. We have network partners across the USA and across all of Latin America, where our HQ in Bueno Aires is under the leadership of Paula Cordova. Up next, we are looking to build in Europe and Asia-Pacific.