Venables Bell & Partners's Kate Jeffers

Kate Jeffers
Partner, Managing Director Venables Bell & Partners, San Francisco

How would you describe the overall culture at your agency and would you say that there is a separate female culture?

Our goal is to create a culture where smart, interesting, weird, fun, nice people want to come and stay. So, to us, “culture” isn’t created through parties, ping pong tournaments and free pizza every Friday, but through actions like giving new parents tech support to work from home, or encouraging people’s “side hustles” with time out of the office and financial support. We strive to see every person in the agency (which is over 50% women) not as names on a staffing plan, but as unique individuals who show up to work every day with different skills, challenges, worries and ambitions; and then do everything possible to create the conditions for them to succeed. Being an independent agency is critical to this. While I don’t see us as having a separate female culture, we are focused on formalizing forums where women and moms can input into larger agency decisions and drive outcomes.

In your opinion, what do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?       

I’ve seen two big changes. One big change is the work we all see out in the world. As we know, women influence nearly 80% of all purchase decisions, but it’s taken the industry way too long to reflect this reality and represent women authentically. I’m excited that we’re starting to get there. The other big change, is the power women now have to make their voices heard in addressing systemic inequities in the industry. I was honored to include my signature on the letter introducing the Time’s Up Advertising initiative, and I’m incredibly inspired by the actions these female leaders are taking to drive positive change for all of us.

What are some of the challenges that women still face in the industry?

To state the obvious, all agencies are grappling with the pace of change in the industry, which can manifest in decreased budgets and timelines as well as increased project work and client turn-over. The pressure of this environment makes it more difficult for everyone to effectively manage their priorities at work and at home, let alone women and moms. As we know, this can lead some women to feel that they need to “opt out” of advertising in order to deliver on their personal responsibilities. We’re actively looking at ways to address these challenges, including a “return-ship” program designed to help moms re-enter agency-life on their own terms.

What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?        

I’m not a big fan of the phrase “work/life balance,” as it assumes that the two are disparate things (and don’t influence each other) and that achieving a perfect equilibrium in any given moment is actually possible (I’ve never seen this happen!). Instead, I think it’s about figuring out how you can manage the two extremely interwoven parts of your life while maintaining sanity, gratitude and a sense of humor. To me, the best way to achieve this is to ensure clarity and accountability around the “what” you are responsible for delivering, so that the “how” you deliver it (whether that’s in the office, on a plane or at home in your pajamas) can be infinitely flexible.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the role I’ve played in diversifying the agency’s offering, with discreet capabilities (including staff, process and pricing) in experience design, Hispanic, retail, Branded entertainment and political/advocacy marketing. This operational model has helped our clients solve business problems in entirely new ways; enabled our staff to leverage creativity in new places; and created significant new revenue opportunities. I’m excited about where this approach may take us.

Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career. What made them so special?

I’ve been fortunate to have a few people I could call mentors (men and women) throughout my career, including my friend and partner, Paul Venables. A mentor once told me that all you need for success is: 1. someone to give you a chance; 2. someone to believe in you; and someone to always tell it like it is (whether you want to hear it or not). To me, this embodies the role of a great mentor, and is something I try to remember when mentoring others.

How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?

The most inspirational women I know are 100% confident in who they are, and everything that makes them unique. I think it’s a shame when women in leadership feel that they can only show their “professional” side at work (which is sometimes hard, unemotional and one-dimensional). The fact that I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, an agency owner, a managing director, a Hawaii-native, a coffee-addict and a Netflix-binge-watcher definitely colors my perspective on our people, our brands and the work we do.  I hope that by showing up every day as my authentic self, (warts and all), I might inspire other women to do the same.