Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018, Laura Forman

"This work empowers the next generation and that’s great, but why do we have to diminish women to girls to make them palatable?"

Laura Forman
Executive Director Brand Strategy KBS


Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018

Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Laura Forman. I recently joined KBS as Executive Director Brand Strategy in NYC.

But enough about me, tell me more about you…
Seriously, my job is to be curious about the world, culture and people so I can find the common human bonds between humanity and brands. I strive to build more purposeful brands brought to life through the timeliest of digital technologies. Fortunately, I found a great place to do that at KBS.
Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
I think at some level I always knew I would end up in advertising. My father wrote a couple of comic strips and my mother was a graphic designer, so I think working in a creative business was in my genes. However, it was my experience as a Resident Advisor in the dorms at college that showed me the importance of perspective. Helping a diverse group of people live and work together, understanding the different motivations that drive people’s decisions, mediating disputes and finding common ground was the perfect laboratory for a brand strategist. That ability to shift perspectives helps when you’re trying to find original ideas that bring brands and people together to solve problems.
What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?
The biggest change is there is finally a woman in the room.
The biggest challenge is often there is only one woman in the room.
To be fair, this isn’t true for every agency and it isn’t true for KBS, but there’s still lots of glass to cut. Get your diamonds out ladies.
From Like A Girl to Fearless Girl, a raft of advertising campaigns have set out to empower women. How do you feel about these campaigns? Can they change attitudes within the industry?
This may not be the most popular point of view, but my question is why does it have to be Like A “Girl” or Fearless “Girl”? This work empowers the next generation and that’s great, but why do we have to diminish women to girls to make them palatable? We need to get over the fear that a “Fearless Woman” would be intimidating.
Initiatives such as Free The Bid are trying to create more opportunities for women in advertising. But what could be done at a more grass roots level to attract women in the first place?
I’m not sure it’s a problem of attracting women to advertising, rather it’s encouraging them to stay. Advertising has many of the same problems other businesses have – unequal pay, biased promotions, mommy-tracking, unrealistic hours, etc. If we want more women to enter advertising, we must create a business that women, in every stage of their careers, can flourish in. This will require a shift in everything from operations to benefits. For example, our parental leave is 3 months of paid time off + 3 months of unpaid time off (optional and job protected) + 3 months of a returnship to help ease parents back into work (part-time from home). Love that this is for both moms and dads regardless of family arrangement – progress!
Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
I’ve always been a bit of an outlier so my mentors in the business have always been the ones who approach things differently, who buck the status quo. They aren’t easy to find, but I’ve been lucky to work with several of them – Jon Steele, Richard Monturo. And I’m excited to be working again with Steve McCall at KBS, my original MAIP mentor.

However, the two people who had the most influence on me were the ones who made me an outlier in the first place. My mother is a Japanese American whose family were interned during WWII and my father was of Irish descent. Growing up in the 70s with mixed-race parents, a working mom, and a stay-at-home-writer dad, gave me a different perspective. My mother taught me tolerance and to be a champion for the underprivileged and my father taught me that sometimes it’s OK to put on a dress and Groucho Marx glasses and just have a laugh (I have pictures).
How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women? In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?
First off, let’s stop calling it an industry. We aren’t in steel. When you think about it, we have an incredibly aggressive and male-focused vocabulary in advertising – campaigns, war rooms, targets, etc. I’d like to introduce a new word to our vocabulary: Empathy. I believe empathy is the most important quality for planners, for creatives, for HR, for every aspect of the business. We must be able to empathize with the people we’re hiring and the people we’re advertising to in order to form the human connections necessary to be relevant. Empathy doesn’t wage campaigns against targets and empathy doesn’t judge value by the number of hours worked in a week. Empathy forges deeper bonds. Empathy is what our industry and what the world needs right now. It’s what KBS believes too and why I joined their team.


Laura Forman
Executive Director Brand Strategy KBS