Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Rachel Donovan, SVP, Executive Creative Director at Jack Morton Worldwide. By Jeff Finkle
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?
Rachel: The current culture at my agency is extremely inclusive. Bruce Henderson, our Global Chief Creative Officer and Cyndi Davis our Managing Director in the New York office, are both huge advocates for female empowerment - hence the culture among my female colleagues is very inspired and momentous. We just ran an internal campaign for Women’s History Month called #stickittosexism. A series of stickers were distributed and visually displayed around the office during the month of March to spark conversation and help people understand and combat sexism both at work and in life.
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?
Rachel: Visibility serves as both the biggest change and the biggest challenge.
Female visibility, especially among the creative department, used to be very rare. You’d see women on the account, strategy and production teams, but rarely on the creative team. Even worse, when you did find female teams they would likely be working on the ‘girly’ brands. That’s not the case anymore. That said, female visibility still remains a major challenge among the C-suites, executive teams, and boards of directors.
AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?
Rachel: While working with Spike Lee, our team partnered with the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, on a campaign called NOLA for Life. The objective of the campaign was to help drop the murder rate in the city of New Orleans. Since the launch of the campaign NOLA has the largest drop in murder rate (26%) from 2011 to 2015 compared to all the top 20 highest murder rate cities. It was the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done —and the proudest I have ever been of a campaign.
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?
Rachel: It took me a while to learn this one. In my younger years I would sacrifice my personal life and health entirely for work. Now, I understand the critical value of balance. Literally. I practice yoga every morning before coming into the office. Starting the day with mindfulness ignites my creativity and strengthens my ability to remain a positive leader.
AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Rachel: I was captain of my gymnastic team when I was very young, as well as captain of my varsity soccer, basketball, and softball teams in high school—and resident assistant in college at the School of Visual Arts during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These positions taught me so much about the power of brave leadership. They taught me how to build a strong team, how to manage the emotions around winning and losing, how to remain strong and bring people together during a time of absolute crisis.
AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
Rachel: I can’t select just one person who has helped shape my career, but I can fortunately mention many brilliant women who made lasting impressions on me and guided me through pivotal moments in professional life. My high school art teacher, Mrs.Greenly, introduced me to graphic design and convinced me to apply to art school. At SVA, I had two instructors – Tracy Boychuck and Gail Anderson — each executive creative directors at their respective companies, who taught me how to actually design and hired me as an intern during my junior and senior years. Throughout my professional career I’ve met and revered many smart, strong, successful, women who’ve inspired me, empowered me and given me opportunities for growth. Denyse Jones, Kathy Delaney, Vanessa Romann, Briana Ferrigno, Kaity Potak, Rebecca Williams and Auge Riechenberg, just to name a few.
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?
Rachel: I always make it a priority to connect, mentor, advise, and inspire junior talent. It is critical for their success and the learning goes both ways.
My advice to young women entering the business is to always speak up, lean in and make your voice heard. Stay focused on your work, stop apologizing and ask a lot of questions.
I also highly advise all women to remain kind to each other. I sadly still see strong, smart, successful women threatened by other strong, smart, successful women. There is enough room for all of us. We must lean in to each other because “when women support each other amazing things happen”.