Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018, Stephanie Sumner

"Advertising is so closely tied to current culture, reflecting it and shaping it."

Stephanie Sumner
SVP / Client Development Bright Red \ TBWA, Tallahassee


Perspectives: Women in Advertising 2018

Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Stephanie Sumner, currently SVP of Client Development at Bright Red in Tallahassee. Previously I led business development for 18 years at McKinney in Durham, North Carolina.
Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
When I first started my career, I had a second job, as most junior folks do. Mine was running the customer service desk at Stein Mart and it taught me the value of listening. People by nature want to be heard. The simple act of listening to what they have to say leads to a higher level of trust and provides critical pieces of information that can shape your response so that it is received in the best way possible. This has been a great skill to use in all aspects of my life from working with teammates and prospective clients as well as with my family and friends.
What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?
There was always the uncomfortable and often unspoken question of “who is going to be the female in the room” when assembling pitch teams. Without female leadership in the departments that participate in pitches, it was a challenge. That has become much easier as more women have assumed more senior roles and the question doesn’t come up nearly as much.
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?
Advertising is so closely tied to current culture, reflecting it and shaping it. Those of us who work in the business are probably more sensitive to these attitudes because we are studying them on behalf of our clients, which is why more work like this is happening. I love these campaigns and that we are using our power to make our world a better place through clients that are brave enough to go there.
How have the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements played out in the advertising sector? Are they making a significant impact?
Advertising is a team business that can take your nights and weekends. I have seen as many divorces as marriages result from the relationships that develop. Those are the honest ones. The ones that are being exposed now, as uncomfortable as they are, are a necessary evil we’re going to have to get through. It takes a strong woman to speak up, knowing the dominos that are going to fall as a result. That’s why the broader support of #MeToo and #TimesUp, as well as creative work like Fearless Girl are so important.
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?
Years ago I pitched a client who placed a lot of value on diversity in their agency. During an agency visit for a chemistry check meeting, one of them pulled aside a number of employees they encountered to get the real story of how we approached the subject. This was a large piece of business and made us put some new processes in place to meet their expectations. Clients have a lot of power and if they make having women on their agency team a priority, agencies will step up.
Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
I had the privilege of working with Janet Northen, partner and evp, director of communications at McKinney for many years. She taught me a lot about working with male leadership and perseverance and how to be heard without raising your voice. What I most appreciate about Janet is that she always put her family first, yet did so without allowing anything she did for the agency to suffer. She taught me not to sacrifice one for the other and how to be successful at both. I am forever thankful to her for the balance I’ve been able to achieve.
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?
My advice for women is the same as anyone else starting out in this business. Strive to be the very best by using all the things that make you different from others to your advantage.


Stephanie Sumner
SVP / Client Development Bright Red \ TBWA, Tallahassee