Making the advertising industry work for moms


First of all, I recognize that a guy who writes about all things mom is going to elicit anger and more than a few sarcastic (and probably anonymous) comments. If that drives you crazy, I’m sorry.

That said, let’s get to the point: our industry is terrible at retaining talented moms. Really bad.

I was able to witness it when my wife was pregnant with our first child. She was an account manager at a well-known department store. She asked the general manager of the agency what she needed to stay at the agency and also take care of our newborn baby. She was refused. No “hey, it doesn’t work on this account, but let’s do it here.” No “it doesn’t quite work for us, but what about xyz instead?” Just a metaphorical “no”. So she left. We made it work. Eight years later, our kids are both in school, she’s back in the agency game, and while some things about advertising have changed, one thing certainly hasn’t: this industry treat moms badly.

Much has been written about the reasons for this situation. I think I can sum it up in two reasons: 1) We’re a service industry, so anything that requires a layout that could potentially inconvenience a customer is very scary for some people. 2) In my experience, this industry attracts people who don’t respect boundaries. So we combine those two things and we end up with a lot of people with bad boundaries who are afraid to tell clients, “We have to push this meeting back an hour because the CD has a pre-commitment.” It’s a very dumb reason to lose some of the best talent in the industry.

Enough has been said about the power and value of the experience of motherhood. And how it’s the hardest job anyone can have, etc., etc. Everything is true. But even if motherhood were a delightful ride, it wouldn’t matter. Our industry can’t bear to lose so many smart people. Talent density is key.

The Covid situation has proven the following: There is no agency. There are only people. There’s nothing inherently valuable about your agency that can’t come out when someone offers them 20% more money. And here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of companies that can do just that.

I’m the CCO of a small store. I don’t have those big Zuckerbucks to throw around. But I went through the Moneyball book and saw the movie twice. If you haven’t read/seen it, I suggest you do. It’s about discovering talents that other people overlook. It’s something I had to master. A good place to start? Make working in your agency easier or simply possible for moms.

Here’s what that means for us: I was hiring a new creative director. I spoke to about 27. (We’re a small agency. Talent density is everything to me. You get the picture.) I met a great one! Two problems: it is not on our market. But I don’t care. I don’t think the Covid WFH thing is going away any time soon. And anyone who can’t work effectively with WFH won’t last long with us anyway. Second problem: she is a mother. She needs 4-6 PM PST to drop off her child. When you hear that, do you cringe? If so, you are missing something. ‘Cause when I heard that, I thought, ‘Awesome. I can do this 100%. moms.”

Even though the industry is bleeding talent all over the place.

Even though about half of our customers are also mothers.

Even though all the moms I know do shit. Because they don’t have time for anything else.

So I get this great new creative director. His book is nails. Its design sensibility is *Italian Chef’s Kiss.* Its category experience is spot on. And all I have to do is not call him from 4 to 6. It’s an easy trade.

Last word: it is not a sign of virtue. This is from a guy who saw his wife deal with this problem first hand. And who has two daughters that I wouldn’t want to see join this industry in its current state. I try to do better, to be better, and to make this industry better for all who are willing to endure its countless delights and disappointments. So let me ask you this: is your talent density where it needs to be? Because if not, maybe you should commit yourself to a mom. I know some great ones.


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