There’s been some recent press for 3%. That’s good. Yet one piece in Digiday included a reader comment that was a head-scratcher:
“From personal experience, many female creative directors (like myself) successfully run smaller agencies and even manage to win a few creative awards while turning a profit. Yet, we often get overlooked by the mega agencies/creative directors including Kat Gordon who either doesn’t have an updated list of female creative directors from smaller agencies or is only focusing on the 3% on her radar screen.”
I responded that I myself run a small agency and that several of our speakers – Rebecca Rivera, Helene Cote, Ayesha Mathews and Shelli Strand – also run consultancies. Yet is that really the point? Is the answer that I should use precious agenda time at The 3% Conference to extol the benefits of running a small agency and teach young women how to do the same?
That’s SO not the point.
Most of the women I know who left to go freelance or start their own agencies did so in order to flee what was broken at large agencies: the insane hours, long commutes, unpredictable travel schedules, single focus on one client, etc. – many at that all-important motherhood juncture.
But here’s the thing: when you leave big-agency life, you also leave its many benefits (yes, there are some). I started consulting when I wanted to have a child and let me tell you, there is nothing more anxiety provoking than a completely unpaid maternity leave. It’s like you can hear the taxi meter tick-tick-ticking during every breastfeeding session, every stroller walk, every bath. Every single moment with your child you are aware of the drip-drip-drip of your household’s finances being drained.
Then there are the client considerations. Freelancers rarely are given the plum assignments – those with juicy budgets and award-winning potential. Often you don’t have account folks running interference for you and have to wear that hat, writing creative briefs and managing schedules. And the general bonhomie of an agency — the ping-pong table, the holiday party, the all-hands meetings — is replaced with a more lonely existence of a solo-preneurship or of virtual teams Skyping and emailing.
Even if these trade-offs are worth it – and for me they were – the answer is not to urge women to bow out. A good Plan B does not let Plan A off the hook. Big agency life has to become more welcoming to women. Otherwise clients — those whose work enjoys the most visibility in our culture — will continue to produce work that springs almost entirely from a male sensibility. The female marketplace will still be largely unmoved by its message — or recoil from it entirely. And all of us will still be exposed to 3,000 messages a day that repeat tired patterns of stereotyped casting, sexualized imagery and sophomoric humor.
Until female creatives have a real choice — between a great job at a great agency or a great job under their own shingle — I will continue to demand big change at the biggest levels of advertising.
Who’s with me?