Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Zoe Bell, Head of Integrated Film at Saatchi & Saatchi London

We would like to thank Zoe Bell, Head of Integrated Film at Saatchi & Saatchi London for taking the time to participate in this interview series and provide her insights.

Zoe Bell
Head of Integrated Film Saatchi & Saatchi, London

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?


Zoe: Saatchi’s is an environment of strength and positivity, not surprising given the philosophy from its inception, carved on our steps ‘Nothing is Impossible’ which remains at the heart of everything we do both within the agency and for our clients.  Therefore we attract natural leaders and mavericks which creates an ambitious and driven culture.


We hire the best fit for the culture, employing the right mentality and talent, so gender is irrelevant. 


The culture among the women is generally supportive, and certainly if there were any issues we would all rally, but on the whole it is a very warm and friendly environment regardless of whether you are male or female.


There is something rather special about our heritage at Saatchi’s and we all feel a sense of responsibility to maintain the culture and ethos.


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?


Zoe: The biggest change has been more diversity in the roles women are representing at senior executive level positions.  Anyone breaking through early days was stereotyped as a ‘succesful career women’ and were more likely to be holding CEO positions and wearing big shoulder pads, and high heeled court shoes. Now we have all disciplines represented at senior level across the industry which makes total sense.  It’s about having the best talent leading, crazy it has even been a question.


As women take on these senior executive positions, and sit shoulder to shoulder with men who have never been in question, it can play to our insecurities of not being good enough. It is a right of passage for a talented successful male to be promoted to a leadership role, but as this hasn’t been the case for women,  it is understandable if we lack confidence.  We can’t show this either, so we have even more of a task to present as a confident women, when we may not be feeling quite so comfortable in our skin as men. 


We had a gender diversity meeting amongst the women in our agency recently, and a number of insecurities came out, that were really quite surprising and disappointing to hear.  Not from the act of others in the agency but our own insecurities.  Ie leaving early to pick up children, a senior account woman said she tries to be invisible when she leaves as she worries she will be judged, even though she is back on line by 7.00pm. I know her team, she won’t be judged, it is what her inner voice is saying.

This is where I think help and support is needed across the board for women.



AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?


Zoe: It was a huge personal achievement at that time.  I joined HHCL in its infancy, which then was the agency everyone wanted to work at, and it was almost impossible to get in there.  After six months of ongoing interviews I joined a a Senior TV Producer, and six months later, aged 26 I was made Head of TV.  It was a moment of real pride, my little bit of 15 mins of fame, as it was such a cool, creative environment and one of the most envied roles, as we were producing the best work of its time.  (The time of Tango Orange, Tango Blackcurrant, Mercury, Ronseal, Maxell, AA).  And I loved every moment, couldn’t quite believe I was being paid too.


This paved the way for me to join Mother as its 6th employee where I helped to build and grow the agency for the next 13 years.  That was my second biggest personal achievement in my career that could not have happened without the first.


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?


Zoe: I have a fanstastic team around me at work, and we all support each other.  But work is unpredictable (which I like) so it is managing this with some organisation, discipline and boundaries, where possible.  The reality is you have to breathe through it and find quick, smart and creative solutions while rushing for a cab to a parents evening you’d forgotten about!


Home is slightly chaotic with three children and two dogs, but I’ll miss that when it’s gone, so I’m embracing the madness rather than fighting it.  It’s a very loud house, so not much room for silent reflection…


Most weekends where possible we go to Norfolk to a lovely old farmhouse we are slowly restoring, in the middle of nowhere, I love every moment we are there.


AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?


Zoe: While I was studying I worked in a restaurant as a cook and waitress (not at the same time admittedly) and I worked in a department store selling wigs and piercing ears.


Surely each of these have contributed in some way to my passion for creativity, craft and production, whilst delivering for our broad range of clients?


AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?


Zoe: I haven’t had a specific mentor or anyone who has specifically guided me in my career, but there is one person who made a huge impression on me in my formative years, and his thinking has contributed massively to who I am today.


Steve Henry, Founding Partner and Creative Partner HHCL.  For those who are not familiar with this agency, they were an iconoclastic and provocative agency in the 1990’s, winning Campaign’s agency of the decade in 2000.


By working closely with Steve I learnt to break the rules, and to never ever give up on something, however unlikely it may be. Together we kept ideas alive, or alive for as long as was possible, always seeking smart, creative, innovative solutions to making great work.


Steve was (is) always exploring what’s next, never following always leading the way, and this is one of the greatest lessons.  Never look back always forward.  Never give up on an idea, a dream or a belief.  There is always a way of getting what you want. Be prepared to make mistakes, don’t be safe. Be brave. 


Fantastic grounding that has guided me throughout my career.  


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?


Zoe: I would advise not to get too caught up on gender.  Be ambitious and brave for what you believe in, believe in yourself and be confident with who you are (easier said than done, but try and work on it). 


If you are a strong talent, with leadership qualities then you deserve the position you are working towards.  If you are not recognized and valued, move, and find an environment that nurtures and appreciates your talent.


Do not allow your confidence to be knocked, and champion yourself, the more senior you become the less praise you receive, as others don’t imagine you need it. 

Zoe Bell
Head of Integrated Film Saatchi & Saatchi, London