3% Conference Takeaways

Be the Change You Wish to See in Advertising

For the most part, no one ever tells you how to be a good leader or how to handle failure. Neither are things for which you can study. They are skills you develop through experience. At the 3% Conference, the speakers talked openly about their failures and leadership challenges, because without them, they wouldn’t be where they are today.

In the first session “My Failure Résumé,” Libby Brockhoff, formerly of the ad agency Mother London, admitted that her greatest failure was thinking she had to choose between running her own agency and having a family. Without ever raising the subject with her team, she quit the agency she had co-founded and moved back to the States. Usually when I think of failure, I think of the things I did that royally backfired. Rarely do I think of the things that I didn’t do.

For decades, the uncompromising, cut-throat reputation of advertising agencies has conditioned women to think they must choose between a career and a life, and so women don’t ask otherwise. But Andrés Ordónez, CCO of EnergyBBDO, actively encourages women to voice their questions and to have tough conversations because, “you never know what’s waiting for you on the other side.” For Ordónez, part of being a successful leader is knowing that family comes first; otherwise you have nothing. Educating male creative leaders to be advocates for the unheard voices on their teams is one way to cultivate change in agency leadership practices

Contrary to popular belief, being a successful creative leader does include finding balance for yourself and your teams. In addition to sharing key insights around healthy team dynamics in his talk “Herding Tigers”, Todd Henry reinforces the need to take care of #1. That means you: your emotional well-being, and your intuition. Aptly put, “you cannot draw water from an empty well.” To be effective creative leaders, we need to protect our flame, our love for our craft by taking that time to recharge and replenish our creative energy.

To tap in to our creative selves, keynote speaker Kyle Cease led the audience in an exercise to capture our passions, ambitions, goals, and the limiting thoughts that prevent us from pursuing them. He instructed us to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left, we wrote down all of the things we would do, feel, experience, or create if we didn’t have that inner critic in our ear; for example, “turn my side-hustle into a full-time gig” or “workout every day.” On the right, we recorded our usual “Yeah, But…” self-limiting responses for each goal: “I wouldn’t get paid enough,” “I don’t have the time,” or “I am afraid my coworkers/friends/family won’t support me.” Through this exercise, I realized that my biggest limitations were my own assumptions and the traditional expectations dictated by the industry. Furthermore, before Cease’s talk, no one had invited me to question my unspoken assumptions. In that moment, I wished Libby Brockhoff had been privy to Cease’s game-changing thinking all those years ago. If we don’t like the way things are in the world of ad agencies, it is up to us to help reshape it. Not taking that risk could end up being our greatest failure.

That’s where legend Cindy Gallop comes in. Founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and IfWeRanTheWorld, Gallop is actively inspiring women to start their own agencies. The key to changing the advertising landscape today is to start the agencies of tomorrow. It’s time for the advertising industry to put its money where its mouth is. The cost of not taking risks to spark change is far higher. So this time Brockhoff is one step ahead: in 2011 she cofounded another agency, Odysseus Arms, and has been kicking ass ever since. Ladies, let’s be the creative leaders we wish we had all along.