Perspectives: Women In Advertising: Melissa Jones, Founder and Creative Director of Creative Agency at DTE Studio.
AdForum: How would you describe the current overall culture at your agency? How would you describe the culture among your female colleagues and what are the differences?
Melissa: Focused. Driven. Aware. DTE Studio is currently 80% women, what can I say, women are great at marketing! As the Founder of one of the only woman-owned agencies in New York it’s wonderful to have a diverse, intelligent, multi-talented team of people to collaborate with everyday. With new technologies and avenues of media popping up weekly, there is demand for experienced and agile creative partners who know how to prioritize. Our deep history in branding allows us to customize and tailor our solutions for every outlet from social to traditional media and keep the dots connected for maximum ROI. We like to work fast, and we have a blast doing it too. One of the most important things for me when I started DTE was to create a great place to work, I mean, we spend 80% of our lives at work…it should be enjoyable shouldn’t it?
AdForum: What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling” into Sr. Executive level positions? What are some of the challenges that still exist for women in reaching the upper echelon of management?
Melissa: I think seeing more and more women in C-level and executive positions is a big change over the past decade. I think women of my generation grew up knowing they could try for something bigger and better and it was a natural step for them to do so after education. I think some of the challenges that still exist for women reaching the upper echelon of management is no doubt equal pay. This is still a fight, for sure.
AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?
Melissa: I enjoyed working with Karl Lagerfeld a lot, he was a great person to work with. He is very smart and also very kind, it was lovely to see that in someone who most people feel is so mysterious! Perhaps I am a perfectionist, but in life I always think there is room for improvement. There is a lot of work that I have created that I am proud of, but there is not one singular achievement that I consider the pinnacle. I guess to consider it “achieved” would almost consider it “done” or “complete”, which is never the case for me. Life for me is an ongoing journey full of adventures. Achieving wisdom and peace everyday while being energized and fulfilled by my work and my craft is where I like to keep my focus and my ultimate goal.
AdForum: How do you find the best work-life balance to help you stay productive and creative at work and to help you live a happy, sane life outside of the office?
Melissa: You have to enjoy what you do. You have to feel fulfilled, challenged and be giving it your all-out genuine heart and soul. That’s the only way. And that doesn’t mean working 20 hours out of 24 hours a day, it means being present and thriving on your work when you are doing it. Of course most founders will agree that it’s easy to fall into never-stop mode, and truth be told, when it’s your own company that’s pretty much the way it will always be for the founder. But for my staff I set limits. Everyone at DTE has a great work/life balance. We pride ourselves on being super-scheduled, super-organized and early, not just on-time. This helps us make sure we get out of work on time and not have to do weekends or late nights. I generally know what I want and I am very organized myself so setting a good example leads the rest of the team to being pretty on top of it.
AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Melissa: My father was in advertising, he had a successful agency chain across South East Asia, so I’ve been surrounded by advertising since I was a kid. But being a serial entrepreneur and starting many businesses over the years from handbag lines to record labels to more recently even launching an online dating site, these are the things that have taught me the most about business, growth and ultimately how to identify with the business owners, founders and CEOs of the brands that we work with. I know what it’s like to be responsible for a brand, to be the one responsible for the bottom line, for driving it forward and for innovation, my entrepreneurial business experience for this was key.
AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
Melissa: My first job was at Tommy Boy Records, a hip hop record label known for launching the careers of De La Soul and Naughty by Nature amongst many others. A fellow RISD grad named Kevin Wolahan was an Art Director at Tommy Boy when I applied to work there. He hired me freelance as a junior graphic designer and then a few months later when his co-art director was leaving, he championed me as the replacement for the position, telling management (and me!) that he was sure I could do the job. Well, I got the job and that was the beginning of my career as an Art Director almost 18 years ago. Kevin remained my mentor and guide throughout all the work I did at Tommy Boy and onwards past that for many years. What makes Kevin special is he’s this totally chill guy who is somehow fearless, confident and this crazy design nerd all at the same time. He is precise, a master at his craft and a champion of pushing technology and design to innovate. He taught me many of the pillars I use in my work to this day: to enjoy work and to make it fun, to fight for the better design and push the limits, to be loyal to the people you work with and, most importantly, to have confidence in your team. It’s still a comfort to talk shop with Kevin and to get his feedback on my work. Not surprisingly, his team spirit and “just do it” attitude landed Kevin in Portland leading creative as part of the Nike team where he is able to make some serious magic.
AdForum: How do you as a successful woman in your industry plan to inspire the next generation of women? In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?
Melissa: The best thing a woman in the industry can do, to support other women I think, is to hire them. Give them a job. Let them thrive and excel and pay them fairly. Share knowledge and wisdom, work together, and learn from each other. Laugh! And don’t forget to give some love to the men too...Let’s not forget there are some pretty awesome ones out there and the world is only stronger when we collaborate.