Pink Lipstick is my Power Tie. Confessions of a Girly-Girl CD.

I am a creative director. And a woman. One of 12%-ish now, I’ve heard. The numbers are climbing, but nowhere near 50%, which would be the goal. So how do we get there?

We, (that’s us female creatives) talk about how we got here.

This occurred to me during a recent Q & A with some college students. A young woman asked me “the question.” You know the one: 

“As a woman, what have you had to overcome to succeed in this industry?”

My friend and creative manager, who was also on the panel, raised her hand with the enthusiasm of a first-grader who’s about to pee herself and blurted out, “I know! I’ve seen her present stuff in meetings and be told flat out it wasn’t funny. And it was.”

Well, yeah, that happened. Once or 37 times.  

But here’s the truth. I’ve never wanted to admit it. Never wanted to talk about how I’ve had to overcome stuff because I’m a woman. First off, I don’t like making excuses, and talking about any obstacles of being a female copywriter seemed to do just that. It felt like I was compensating for not being more, better, sooner.

Second, my mentor, John Schofield, is a man (obviously) who is also my good friend and surrogate big brother. I am where I am largely because of him. My current boss, Tracy Wong, is also a man (not obviously by the name, but obviously when you meet him) and is a truly great guy who inspires me daily to be a better creative and a better creative director. And there are many other dudes I feel lucky to have worked with. So, in other words, I worried I’d be throwing the men I admire and respect under the bus by admitting, yes, dammit, it’s been hard to be a girl sometimes.

But that’s dumb. Because I’m not helping change anything by being quiet. Plus there’s got to be at least one aspiring female copywriter wondering what she’s up against, or hopefully, what’s changed for the better. And every female CD, ECD, CCO, or BFD has a different story about how she found success or how she defines it. So if each of us tells our story, it’s bound to inspire another young woman who’s finding her way in the industry. 

*Exhibit A. My uber-professional notebook.

*Exhibit A. My uber-professional notebook.

So, here’s MY truth. It’s not always been easy. ‘Cause while I really love hanging with the guys I work with, laughing at their gross jokes, hearing f-bombs dropped as often as vowels, I’m a full-on girly girl. Pink is my favorite color. * I genuinely love salad. My hobby is horseback riding, for chrissakes. In other words, even though I appreciate a good poop joke and relish being around the guys, I have never, even remotely, been one of them.

My first real copywriting job 20 years ago was an interesting mix of old and new school. In a big, established agency (McCann), surrounded by a lot of young, forward-thinking people. I got — and created — a lot of opportunities. I can guarantee I made less money than other writers at my level, (all guys), but it never occurred to me to ask for more. I got some seemingly sizable raises, was quickly promoted to senior copywriter, loved my job, loved my creative directors, loved life. Who was I to complain? (Um, I was a super-dependable, award-winning workhorse, is who I was, and I should’ve realized it.) When I slowly started seeing my reflection in the glass ceiling — there weren’t any visible females in creative leadership then in the McCann network —  I left to go freelance.

After four years of freelancing for both agencies and clients, I sought out a staff job at an agency with a reputation built on the name WONGDOODY. And all the schlong/poop references it implies. And let’s just say my feminine sensibilities did not take the place by storm. I was one of two female creatives at the time, and the other was Pam Fujimoto, who could succeed in any situation she found herself in. Only human in an all-alien agency? No prob. Pam wouldn’t just survive, she’d make all the aliens want to redesign their spaceships, be a cooler shade of green, and find an award-winning way to colonize earth that everyone was super psyched about.

For me, though, it was hard at first. I won’t lie. I was respected for my work ethic, but not always my work. Some of that I’ll attribute to inexperience. But some of it was based on taste. Not good vs. bad, but subtle vs. overt. Emotional vs. bombastic. Looney Tunes vs. Itchy and Scratchy.

There were times I tried to mold my writing style to be more like some of the very talented copywriter dudes I worked with. And guess what? It was always a miss. I wasn’t being true to me, and I was a very crappy them. But here’s what I did (and do) have going for me. I work really hard. I am tenacious. I am optimistic and I truly love what I do. And I realized, even in my greatest moments of frustration or self-doubt, that I had a unique and powerful voice.

(Some days, that voice felt like Enya opening for a Slayer concert, but it was unique and powerful, dammit.)

So, I listened. I learned. I took some criticism to heart, and chalked up other comments to be less about me and more about the person making them. I sharpened my wit and my writing style. Laughed at A LOT of my own jokes (still do.) And kept bringing my unique, female perspective, which later turned into a unique, working-mom perspective, to everything I did.

IMPORTANT NOTE TO ASPIRING FEMALE CREATIVES: Despite my girly-girlness, this does not mean everything I touch is super-feminine, soft, or features kittens and a Summer’s Eve watercolor wash. So, no, it’s still not cool to have a pink resume.

Fast-forward to now. Fourteen years, another freelance stint and shit ton more experience later, I am back at WONGDOODY as a creative director. (Tiny fist pump.) I’m pleased to report that my agency not only supports female creatives and female leadership, but actively celebrates them. Our upper management is 50% female (Go Pam, Skyler and Megan!) Our creative department is close to 50/50. We even offer a Women in Advertising scholarship!

Plus, women in general are now recognized as the purchasing decision-makers they are, while (most of) the world is finally regarding being a woman as a source of power and strength, as opposed to being an obstacle. My unique female perspective and sensibility is not just valued, but sought after both internally and by clients. Oh, and the ass-kicking Wonder Woman movie just came out. So yeah, it’s a good time to have two X chromosomes.

* Exhibit B. It's all about a discreet and subtle use of color.

* Exhibit B. It's all about a discreet and subtle use of color.

This is all to say being a female copywriter hasn’t always been a picnic. But any obstacles I’ve had to overcome have made me sharper, more resilient, and a better creative. And most importantly, staying true to myself and believing in what I have to offer has gotten me through the sucky, self-doubt-filled days. And made everything I’ve achieved, and still intend to achieve, that much sweeter.

One last thing. Never underestimate the power of red boots* and pink lipstick to help you feel like you can take on the world. Underwear you don’t buy in a 4-pack helps, too.

Take it from this girly-girl CD. Or find another female leader who speaks to you. Thankfully, there’s more of us every day.



No, you push it.

More than just the title of the Salt N’ Pepa’s classic that I did some SWEET dance moves to in high school, the phrase “Push It” has been the bane of my creative existence.

In fact, if I had a dime for every time I’d been told to “Push It” during the course of my career, I wouldn’t be doing the majority of my shopping at Marshall’s fine discount clothing retailer, where You Never Pay Full Price for Fabulous ®. I shop there a lot, apparently.


I get it. “Pushing it” is what makes good work, better. “Pushing it” also makes scientists, or innovators or philanthropists or anyone better, really. Except maybe that guy in charge of guarding the button to blow the world into smithereens. Not good advice for that guy.

“Pushing it” is what most successful people spend their whole careers doing. Going beyond the obvious. Driving themselves to come up with something newer or more insightful.  Fine tuning and crafting what they’ve already done to make it more impactful.

I have heard this phrase repeatedly from several amazing, talented creative directors whom I greatly respect and admire.

And there are times when it has been just the kick in the butt I needed to send me into a quiet, rage-induced self-doubt spiral. No! I mean, into a brand new way of thinking about things!

But the rest of the time (99.2%), it just pisses me off.

Because telling a creative to “Push It” is non-specific. It is a request to improve things, without knowing the subjective and very specific idea of what would be funnier or wackier or more poignant or better in the mind of the person delivering the critique.

Plus, everybody has a different definition of “better.” Everyone’s version of the perfect poop joke is unique.  And beautiful, I might add.

In my mind, when someone says “Push It”, it insinuates I have not “pushed it” to begin with. Now, I admit I can be sensitive about this, and those close to me are nodding too enthusiastically in agreement right now. Shut up, those friends. Because being told to “Push It” is a huge affront to someone who crafts every word they type. Seriously, even texts. It drives my husband nuts. This sentence alone required 23 revisions.

Now, I absolutely believe in the intention behind “Pushing It.” I believe that you shouldn’t settle, and that there is always room for improvement.

But telling a creative to “Push It” is the equivalent of telling a high jumper who can’t quite clear the bar to just “jump higher.” Wouldn’t it be more helpful to suggest he change his approach, or adjust his position, or… I just reached the end of my high-jump knowledge, so this is where that metaphor ends. But you get the idea.

In my case, I find I get the “Push It” comment because I am a rule follower.  I like a solid creative brief, and the chaperone that shows up to many of the concepting parties in my head wearing a turtleneck and sensible shoes, insists I follow it.  For instance, if I know the client has not bought something in the past because of a certain sensitivity, I avoid that landmine.  I like things to make strategic sense and all tie up in a nice little bow. I am more comfortable thinking within a box than I am floating in space.

So to break out of this, I’ve realized I need to not worry so much. Tell my creative chaperone to chill the eff out and let me do my thing. Believe strongly in myself. Not in an infallible, cocky “I know better” way.  But in the positive, confident way that reminds me I’ve done this before. I’ve been awesome before.

With this in mind, I’d like to suggest some alternatives to “Push it.” Something encouraging, not insulting. Motivational but not too foofy. This is a working list, but here are some quick ideas. (Could be sharper. Must revise this at least 17 more times.)

 • Relax and give two shits less!

 • Let it go! (may be taken)

 • Encourage your mind to swim naked in an infinity pool of your own best ideas!

Sure, there’s not one stock answer. But it boils down to a simple nuance. To get a better creative product, don’t simply ask someone to “Push It.” Start by defining what better means to you, and show your confidence in their ability to achieve that better thing.

I know you can do it.  I believe in you. (See what I did there?)