We Are More Connected Than Ever: Shari Reichenberg, RAPP

I’m not sure I’m ready to say that we’ve “begun to break the glass ceiling,” especially a year into a pandemic that has driven so many women out of the workforce altogether.

Shari Reichenberg
Managing Director RAPP
RAPP Worldwide
Marketing/Creative Services
New York, United States
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How would you describe the overall culture at your agency?

I’d describe it as honest and authentic, passionately socially active and conscious, hardworking and loyal. Our people look out for each other. They care – about each other, our clients, and our business. They are real and imperfect, but they take ownership and work through challenges together. Truth be told, in many ways, RAPP has one of the best groups of colleagues I’ve ever worked with. 

 

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

It’s funny; I struggled with this question at first because I’m not sure I’m ready to say that we’ve “begun to break the glass ceiling,” especially a year into a pandemic that has driven so many women out of the workforce altogether, that female workforce participation is at the lowest level it’s been since 1988. And although the percentage of women in leadership positions within the advertising industry is increasing, women of color are still greatly underrepresented at the top. 

That said, we have undoubtedly made progress -- perhaps more so in certain agencies or markets than in others. There’s no question that there has been some change for the good. I think a lot of the work in-market is more culturally sensitive. Quartz magazine said that “women are making advertising funnier, smarter and way less sexist.” DEI representation metrics are slowly improving. And I’d say that, anecdotally, I see the agency and holding company reorganizations led by women resulting in more streamlined, more connected, and more efficient structures – with fewer layers of highly paid management that inevitably slow title and compensation progression for the more junior talent.

 

Do you think that women still face challenges in our industry, and if so, what are they? 

Definitely – and unfortunately, they’re systemic. As clients’ budgets continue to shrink and digital adoption continues to skyrocket, especially during the pandemic, it forces clients to move even faster, and the pressure on agencies to deliver great work quickly continues to increase – meaning longer hours, earlier mornings, and later nights. This is particularly challenging for women, especially now, as they manage home-schooling, run households that are full of their occupants 24/7, and carry the mental burnout of their families and themselves. It’s a very difficult environment for women to bring their best selves into and shine at the moment.

 

How should we tackle an issue such equal opportunity? 

Something I’ve come to understand as a leader is that diverse talent, by definition, have diverse educational backgrounds and professional and life experiences – which means they won’t have an equal chance at an opportunity if a hiring manager continues to look for traditional, “check the box” bullets on a resume. Organizations need to be more creative about what qualifies a candidate for a role and hire for potential – not experience. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. They then need to be more thoughtful about onboarding, skill-based training and staffing, so that their talent can acquire the experience they need to be successful.

 

How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry, and what professional achievement are you most proud of?

I’ve always considered myself a left-brain/right-brain hybrid and have always been drawn to the way our industry’s success hinges on both data and creativity. Without smart, intentional, data- and insight-based campaign planning, our work won’t have the impact on our clients’ businesses that it must. And without powerful, “wow-did-you-see-that?” creativity, our very intelligent thinking will fall flat. That duality has kept me challenged and inspired throughout my career. The same concept applies for me now, in my role as a leader: I can’t manage our business as if we were manufacturing widgets; I need to create the space for our teams’ creativity to strike when it will -- but also ensure that time is managed profitably. It’s hard, and I love it.

I’m proud of so much client work that I’ve been fortunate enough to contribute to throughout my career, but nothing has compared to the feeling of making it through this last year. I’d been in my new role leading RAPP’s New York office for just four months when the pandemic hit. Some of our staff were sick, and some lost family members to COVID. Some weren’t set up to work remotely. Some of our clients’ businesses were significantly impacted. Many, including me, were juggling kids at home with little-to-no school. Just as we stabilized, the social justice movement lit a fire under all of us, and we threw ourselves into it, full throttle. There was the election, another wave of COVID in New York, and another wave of emotional trauma as we experienced more loss. Through all of this, we came together as an agency-family. We are more connected than ever. Our employee engagement scores increased every month through the spring and summer. Our client portfolio diversified and grew, and client engagement scores were record-high. We adapted, innovated and made work we’re all proud of. All of it virtually. 

It has certainly been a crash course in leadership for me, but I am incredibly grateful for it – and proud of what we’ve accomplished.

 

Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?

I am blessed to have worked with and/or gotten to know incredible women leaders in our space: Jacki Kelley of Dentsu, Kasha Cacy of Engine, Chiaki Nishino of Prophet, Lauren Crampsie and Carla Hendra of Ogilvy, Tiffany R. Warren of Sony Music, and Katie Klumper of Black Glass come to mind as incredible inspirations and friends. They’ve achieved remarkable success in the face of significant challenges with grace, smarts, and badass superpower.