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You’re on the list.

by Farrah Bostic on May 6, 2011

Since about April 15, I’ve found myself collecting the names of accomplished women in advertising and marketing.  Some of these women are recommended to me by other amazing women, notably Cindy Gallop who had a mile-long list at the ready.  Some of them I know personally. And some came through via twitter and email, asking to be included on the list.

But the way the suggestions come in are fascinating.

From women who ask to be on the list, I have to admit there have been a lot of words and phrases that surprise me: ‘embarrassed’, ‘probably’, ‘maybe’, ‘am I allowed to ask’, ‘audition’, ‘considered’, and lots of ‘if’.

From women who suggest others, I’ve noticed that without fail, if I scroll down to their email signature, they are the founder, lead, head, director of something themselves.  It’s been a rarity for a women who is putting forward someone for this list to also put herself forward in the same email.

The women I put on the list (and on the “Ad Women to Watch” list) are either unaware (so far!) that they are on this list, or they email me in surprise and gratitude.

And then there’s me. I made this delightful little mess, with the wonderful and generous Edward Boches, but I didn’t put my own name on the list for almost a week.

The truth is, I wouldn’t have even started the list but for three very important women.  The first would be Janet Champ, who was my unofficial mentor at Wieden + Kennedy, all those years ago, and who changed the conversation around girls in sports with her creative partner Charlotte Moore.  The second would be Robin Hafitz, 2004 US APG Iron Planner, former co-chair of the AAAAs Account Planning Committee, and my boss and mentor at Mad Logic/Mad Dogs & Englishmen. And the third would be Rachel Sklar, founder of Change The Ratio and Charitini, co-founder of Mediaite, Hashable evangelist, TechStars mentor, etc. etc. etc.

Janet liked me and liked my book.  She never suggested I give up (as one creative director I worked for, a woman, once did, ‘you know, if you want to’); she never suggested that my book showed ‘you can write but not that you can think’; she never said, ‘your book is obviously written by a woman; there are no women in our creative department.’ [All of these things were said to me early in my career as a copywriter. I'm almost ashamed to admit it's why I'm not a copywriter anymore.] And about seven months ago she sent me an email about something I’d posted here about women entrepreneurs. I haven’t seen her since 1997, and here she was again, cheering me on.

Robin hired me in 2003, for almost no good reason given my lack of experience at the time. She hires junior people and she trains them. It makes her job harder, but I hope, more rewarding. It’s her way. She was – when I was first becoming a planner – the most respected and ‘famous for advertising’ planner I knew.  She was, in my mind, the archetype of the planner – insightful, creative, persuasive, charismatic, serious but not solemn, or as she once described herself, ‘foul mouthed, yet born again.’ It seemed normal, seven or eight years ago, for women to be at the top of the heap when it came to account planning; while women still probably outnumber men in the discipline, I feel their influence as leaders in the industry is wavering, if not completely rolling back. The US APG is no more.  The 4As Account Planning Committee is now a non-board committee known just as “Strategy” and apart from the Jay Chiat Awards (of which 1 of the 8 listed judges is a woman), I’m not even certain they still put on a conference. Since 2004, there have been no other Iron Planners.

But Robin’s influence on me – and countless other junior planners who knock on her door for mentoring and work, countless other senior planners who share her influence in common – is alive and kicking.  Sometimes even kind of stabbing, right through the chest, cutting to the heart of whatever it is we’re talking about.

And then there’s Rachel. I met Rachel at a Change the Ratio event; I sent her an email later suggesting we could help each other promote our SXSWi panels (hers made it through, rightly; mine not so much). The same day I sent the email I found myself sitting across from her, out in the sun on the Lower East Side, having lunch and a glass of something sparkling, talking about our careers and Change the Ratio and what a reasonable day rate ought to be. It’s unusual to become friends so quickly with someone – or so people tell me, although when I like someone I move fast – or to experience so much candor out of the gate. But candor and generosity of spirit are the things you get from Rachel.  (Also snacks and show tunes.)  Rachel stands up for other women, often even before she stands up for herself.

And so, as the names started coming in, with all the hedging and lack of self-promotion they contained, I kept asking myself, what would Rachel, or Robin, or Janet say?  The thing is, three very different women would all have done a variation on the same things, so I knew exactly what to do: put the suggested women on the list immediately, congratulate them on overcoming their embarrassment or hesitance, ask those making the suggestions if they’d like to be on the list themselves, and yes, even got my shit together and put my own name on there.  And then tweet and link the hell out of it (that last one is definitely more of a Rachel tactic).

The impetus for this mess was Planning-ness. When we started, there were, I believe, 2 women on the list. Now there are seven. That’s a little better than 1 out of 3. And in the world of these conferences, it’s a total victory.

Here’s what I’m learning from the process over and above that women are still not doing a good enough job self-promoting: that making this list and promoting it is a privilege.  That it has opened the door to dozens of people I might never have met who are doing amazing and inspiring things. That getting to encourage women who probably have done much more in their lives than I have is as much a gift to me as it is one from me. And that everybody could do with someone saying to them, “You’re awesome. You’re an expert. You’re on the list.”


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