The Power of Female Creative Directors

August 23, 2014

The sexism on Mad Men, for better or worse, is part of the show’s appeal. It’s part of the “we’re all in on the joke as we look back in amusement at a bygone era” humor. Heck, when Don Draper (a creative director) makes his famous Kodak Carousel pitch, there isn’t a female even in the room, save for a secretary, whom he asks to turn out the lights by merely referring to her as “sweetheart.” (And it should be noted that Sterling Cooper’s Harry Crane is the character that runs from the room crying after Don’s emotional speech.)

Does Don know that it is most likely a woman who will be buying the Carousel? Probably not. If he were making the pitch today, he would know that women make 85 percent of all consumer purchases, $7 billion in total according to research compiled by the Terri & Sandy Solution, an agency founded by creative directors Terri Meyer and Sandy Greenberg. (Yes, Don, Terri and Sandy are women.)

Only 3 percent of creative directors in advertising are female.

What other interesting statistics has the Terri & Sandy Solution accumulated in regard to women and their purchasing power? Well, women purchase over 50 percent of “traditionally male” products. Women are responsible for 58 percent of online retail spending. This rattling off of statistics could go on and on, but the one that may be most important is that women feel misunderstood by advertisers.

What is this reason for women feeling misunderstood? It could be because traditional advertising agencies have been male-dominated, and only 3 percent of creative directors in advertising are female. But there is good news to be found in this sobering statistic: The 3% Conference is an organization that is working on rectifying the problem. It is attempting to change this through its mission “to build the business case for diversity by championing female creative talent and leadership by offering content, community and professional development.” The founder of the 3% Conference is Kat Gordon.

Gordon was a 20-year copywriter and creative director who “saw firsthand how women were left out of pitches and important meetings,” according to the 3% Conference website. She realized the gravity of the problem “the day her agency pitched the Saab car account with 16 men and one woman, and then was mystified why they didn’t get the business.”

“There are only three consumer categories where men dominate purchases, yet agencies still talk about ‘women’s accounts’ as mops and makeup,” Gordon says. “The truth is that women are the superset, not the subset, and the rate at which women are amassing wealth and exerting influence is unprecedented.”

Women feel misunderstood by advertisers.

The most important idea behind Gordon’s resolve to remedy this problem is a mere two-word phrase: lack of. This means, according to the 3% Conference, there’s a “lack of support for motherhood, lack of mentorship, lack of awareness that femaleness is an asset to connecting to the consumer marketplace today, lack of celebration of female work due to gender bias of award juries, lack of women negotiating their first agency salary and every one thereafter.” So the question became this: How to?

The answer began to unfold in September 2012. That’s when the 3% Conference was founded. It has become “a 2-day, 400-person event in San Francisco, multi-city road shows throughout the year, a vibrant online community on multiple social platforms, a student scholarship fund, a creative award, and a business blog to support the crusade.”

And the 3% Conference doesn’t cater exclusively to women. It welcomes men to all its events because — in the interest of quality work — “if you have a vested interest in producing creative work that sells, you’ll benefit from attending our events, reading our blog and participating in our online community.”

What sort of benefits? Well, the world would have been spared “USB cords painted with daisies” and “Della.com, a site launched by Dell Computer in 2009 that sold pastel-colored laptops.” These are two of a few products listed by Jennifer Alsever in her Inc. article “4 Ways to Successfully Market Tech to Women.”

Alsever quotes Anna Shaw, a director at Smart Design, a design and innovation company with a lab that focuses on female consumers, as saying, “Its [the male-dominated tech industry] culture of lightning-speed product development means few tech companies take the time to truly understand women, their lifestyles, and their needs.”

Instead, companies resort to stereotypes and assume women aren’t tech early adopters, Alsever points out. “They’re interpreting women as a smaller, softer human,” Shaw adds.

BMDG has four female creative directors, each with diverse experience and a dedicated support team, to fit a variety of industries and markets.

Sue Britton, co-owner of Britton Marketing & Design Group, says, “Women know the brands that ‘get’ them and those that don’t, the products that work and the ones that fall short. Smart companies understand this.”

This is why BMDG has four female creative directors, each with diverse experience and a dedicated support team, to fit a variety of industries and markets. These creative directors know what it takes to run a campaign, to help a client successfully communicate with its customers.

As Britton says, “The days of yell it and sell it are over, and companies now have to show it and prove it. At Britton Marketing & Design Group, we ‘get’ it. Success with women means speaking one-on-one. It means starting a conversation. We know women are wary of campaigns that expect them to fall in line and do what they’re told. They want only the best for themselves and their families. They want a better world, a better life. As a woman, this is what I’ve found to be true of myself.”

Take that, Don Draper (and those like you). The female creative directors can take it from here.

Photos: Shutterstock and Popchassid

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