Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018, Liz Wilson

For most industries, including advertising, change has been surprisingly slow and depressingly superficial. Thankfully it’s accelerating now and the issue is more of a conscious focus for everyone.

Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018

Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Liz Wilson, COO of Karmarama, which means I’m responsible for the day to day management and operation of our business, how we engage with client companies in new ways and how we organise ourselves to do our best work. My role has changed a lot since we became part of Accenture Interactive just over a year ago; it’s probably unique in the industry now. We’re the first to pioneer integrating classic creative flair with consulting rigour and technical chops to offer more to marketers, whilst respecting our different people, cultures and capabilities. It’s an exciting time; it feels like we’re inventing a new future.
Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
In every job, especially early in my career, I try to soak up as many new experiences, new clients and new bosses as I can. I’ve worked in advertising, branding, innovation, digital and CRM, so over the years I’ve become a good integrator. We used to talk about ‘T-shaped’ people – those with one deep area of expertise, together with high level understanding across broader, related areas. In my experience that’s still a strong recipe for success. Marketing careers usually focus on one sector, so client-side marketers excel in understanding their own brand and category. Whilst as agency leaders, we can offer real value by bringing fresh thinking and ideas from a more diverse set of people, challenges and opportunities.
What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?
We’ve only just begun. For most industries, including advertising, change has been surprisingly slow and depressingly superficial. Thankfully it’s accelerating now and the issue is more of a conscious focus for everyone. In the UK we are lucky to have organisations like WACL. Led by Kerry Glazer, the organisation voted this year to become a more proactive campaigning organisation on gender equality, and help make sure that agencies deliver action not just chat. AllBright, the network set up to support working women, is another example of an organisation putting promise into action. Its founder, Anna Jones is on a mission to make the UK the best place for female entrepreneurs and business leaders. We have more women in creative departments nowadays, and more women in certain leadership roles, but Business Insider’s most recent advertising top earners list doesn’t have a single woman on it, which is pretty shameful. This is no time for complacency. There’s a hell of a way to go.
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?
Like most women, I enjoy this celebratory work and it always makes me sit up a bit straighter and feel a bit more powerful. So yes, I believe it can help drive change in the prevailing culture. We’re starting to ask much, much more of this work though – we want it to be built on real company values, policies and action, not topical communication. Heaven help people who jump on the bandwagon without real evidence and a real story to tell.
How have the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements played out in the advertising sector? Are they making a significant impact?
In a recent survey conducted by The New York Times and Morning Consult, a third of men said they had done something at work within the past year that would qualify as objectionable behaviour or sexual harassment. That’s absolutely astonishing. Campaigns like these play an important role in raising consciousness and getting the issues talked about publicly, but honesty and consciousness are only the foundations. It’s important that these campaigns quickly move us past the name and shame phase, and empower both women and men to change behaviour around them in their workplaces. We need bold, constructive programmes like the one our Accenture colleagues have committed to – Getting to Equal – with bold, publicly committed goals on female presence and seniority. In a global business the size of Accenture it’s an enormous mission and I’m not yet aware of any similar commitment from any of the big players in our industry.
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?
Ironically for our business, the biggest single issue for grass roots recruitment is awareness. We miss out on many talented school and university leavers of both genders, simply because they aren’t aware of the breadth of roles and skills involved, so they don’t consider advertising as a possible option for them. This means we can definitely do more in how we market the industry to this audience, and interestingly there is a lot of start-up activity in this area now from Creative Mentor Network to The Marketing Academy Foundation, so change is coming. Slowly.
Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
I’ve had many great unofficial mentors and role models over the years who have believed in me, trusted me, challenged me to do more and always had my best interests at heart. The best also had a real plan and a path for me to learn and grow. That’s invaluable in building your own self- belief and confidence, and it’s what I hope I give back to people I mentor now.
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?
It’s a time of change and great opportunity. I’ll be rooting for the next generation and hoping they make the most of things by looking to work for people and companies that are actively embracing change, exploring new models and innovating. The advertising world is mid-pivot, so a business that isn’t, will be facing the wrong way very soon. Confidence is the key. Take yours in both hands, don’t wait for some later time when you think you deserve it, whatever it is for you - step up, speak up and get in the game.