Women in Advertising 2018, Shelley Elkins

"Turns out, I was flying off to a corn field, because as punishment, my dad signed me up to detassle corn."

Shelley Elkins
SVP/Executive Creative Director Jack Morton Worldwide


Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018

Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
In very close partnership with my husband of 13 years, I am a mom of three — a 4-year-old, a 20-month-old, and my first baby, the Outlaw Josey Wales, a Husky-Shepherd who we rescued from the City Pound in 2010.

I am also currently and passionately the Executive Creative Director at Jack Morton in Chicago.

I put my family first when I describe myself, though it doesn’t always happen that way. Every day is a balance between work and family. It’s never perfect but I’m always learning and growing.
Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Yes, and it involves corn, my first love and a Toyota Tercel.

I’m from Iowa (think corn, not potatoes) and the summer before college, I totaled my moms’ beloved Toyota Tercel after dropping my boyfriend off at the Waterloo Municipal Airport. He was flying off to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Turns out, I was flying off to a corn field, because as punishment, my dad signed me up to detassle corn. As in, walk down a row of corn and remove the tassles from the tops of the plants. Repeat.

There were machines that did the heavy lifting but even still, it was brutally hard work. We woke up at 3-something and were working by 4-something. At that hour, it was cold and wet and full of creepy critters. Then the sun would come up and it was burning hot and scratchy (and still full of creepy critters). At the end of my detassling career, I vowed to work hard at everything I did, knowing it would never be as hard as that was. Or as itchy.
What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?
Conversation. When I started in this business, we didn’t talk about it. Any of it. We just put our heads down and worked. Now we’re talking and together, our voices can’t be ignored.
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?
These campaigns are everything because they don’t just tell you about an issue, they make you feel it. I’ll share with you an experience from my own work at Jack Morton. We recently created an award-winning campaign for COVERGIRL born from the revelation that although females make up nearly half of all football fans, there have only been a handful of women who have worked in a non-sideline broadcasting role. At the time, COVERGIRL had a partnership with professional football so instead of making what could have been a lovely sampling experience at some of their events, we created the first-ever all-female football pre-game show.
It made people feel included, valued and involved and it pushed the issue out into the open. It was hugely successful and we all know that success breeds success, so hopefully we will see a lot more campaigns like these.
How have the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements played out in the advertising sector? Are they making a significant impact?
I’ll speak again from my own experience. I had the honor of signing the open letter on March 12, 2018 announcing #TimesUpAdvertising. On that day I sent out an email to the entire agency worldwide explaining the movement and its importance. In just over a month, it’s already made a significant impact — and we’re just getting started. We printed oversized letters and distributed them to all 17 Jack offices globally along with a desk drop. Each office then had a signing ceremony and talked about the importance of the movement. Since then we have formed of what I’m calling Action Forces around each of the three actions outlined in the letter — as well as several related initiatives including better supporting moms and continuing a campaign we started last year called #StickItToSexism. In just a few weeks, I’ve received personal emails from women and men from nearly every office volunteering their time and committing to helping create real change. It’s been incredible.
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?
Sisterhood. Women supporting women. Making time for each other. Time to write each other recommendations. Give each other advice. Introduce each other to new people. Advocate for each other. Support each other. In every single way that we possibly can.
Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of a group of women who have stayed in touch and supported each other since we first met including my first boss Mary Bunker, my art director partner Elizabeth Vargas, my strategy partner Jerry Steele, my work and life mentor Anne Leroux, my writer idol Mimi Donahue and my best friend, who also happens to be in the business, Jessica Koffman.

In addition to having a long-standing circle of support, there have also been some defining moments that have been more casual — a good reminder to all of us as leaders to give ongoing feedback and guidance to our teams.

For example, I’ll never forget when in the middle of a creative review my ECD David R. Mitchell turned to me and said something to the effect of, “Shelley, I can’t wait to work for you someday. I hope you’ll considering hiring me when you’re in charge.”

Hearing someone say out loud that they believe in you is magical. I always had ambition but that day he turned my dreams into real possibility. It’s one thing when you guide people in the present but when you talk to them about the future, it changes the game. It opens up the sky and the stars.

Most recently I’ve been lucky to find an incredible mentor in my CCO Bruce Henderson. I’ll never forget when he flew to Chicago a few weeks before I was going out on maternity leave to join my Managing Director Matt Pensinger in talking to me about my leave. They made it clear that not only was there a place for me when I came back but a place where I could grow. They made sure I knew how valuable I was to the agency. They talked to me about my next promotion. They made sure I went out on leave feeling confident about myself and my job and my future.

Last but definitely not least, my mom and dad have always been mentors to me. (Hi mom & dad!) They made me believe from an early age that I could do anything I set my mind to do.

Helping women succeed starts at home. It starts on Life Day 1. Or more likely Day 91 cause the first few months of being a parent are really, truly a total blur.
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?
Do for yourself and each other what you do for your clients — ask questions, work really freaking hard, find creative solutions, and never settle for “that’s how we’ve always done it.”


Shelley Elkins
SVP/Executive Creative Director Jack Morton Worldwide