Seat at the Table with the Women of WONGDOODY Seattle

We’re excited to introduce our new series, A Seat at the Table, where you’ll get the opportunity to hear from dynamic women changing the face of business who all work together at the same company. Their roles may be varied, but their message is the same: It’s time for more women to join them in shaping today’s business world. So, grab your coffee and take a seat as we introduce the women of WONGDOODY Seattle’s creative services team who work on accounts including Papa Murphy’s, Alaska Airlines and Amazon.

Meet The Team (left to right) ::
+Lara Johannsen (LJ), Creative Manager
+Christy Healy (CH), Director, Project Management
+Jennifer Freeman (JF), Director, Interactive
+Steph Huske (SH), Executive Producer
+Stacie Leskosek (SL), Senior Director, Operations

It’s our responsibility to speak out -- and up -- and support one another so we keep away from being locked into just 'the girl angle' or 'the soft touch.'

Is the fact that the bulk of the leadership team overseeing creative services at WONGDOODY mostly women a coincidence? 

LJ:  It’s not planned actually. It just worked out that way. We hire the best people for the job. We have a lot of men on our teams, and within the Creative Services group our directors of print production and studio are men. I’ve not researched it, but I feel we’re pretty unique among agencies in that our staff and leadership mix is truly 50/50 across both offices.

Do you feel that bringing a woman's perspective benefits the creative work that WONGDOODY does for clients?

LJ: I can’t speak to anyone else, but I never think about me having a women’s perspective or working on women’s business. And maybe that’s because we don’t have any accounts that are women-only products and services. I think of it more as we have a lot of voices in the room and we use our smarts to lead us to the best solution to the client’s business problem.

SH: I don’t think it’s a women’s perspective, but some clients and brand strategies have a very specific voice need, and sometimes a woman’s POV aligns perfectly with that. (For example, our Papa Murphy’s “voice” is a relatable mom-next-door, and our current writer happens to be just that, which makes it a great fit). That said, most of the clients we have just want a range of work, and all of our creatives can deliver on the creative brief no matter what the tone is.

SL: It’s not as much about bringing a women’s perspective to our clients and work; it’s about bringing a relevant perspective -- no matter who the audience is.

What does work/life balance look like in your world?

SH: We’ve talked a lot about the topic of balance, actually. Many of the women in leadership roles in our office have partners that split the work/home balance 50/50 or more to accommodate schedules/work needs.

CH: For me, my husband and I tag in and tag out. We both work in advertising and sometimes there are late nights. I wouldn’t be happy in a 9 to 5. I love the people here and our approach to the work. So, knowing that we’re doing great work and we’re great people, helps even out the ups and downs in work/life balance. Working with great people is key.

JF: A lot of us have kids and we recognize that we have to drop the kids off at school or go to doctor’s appointments. We all have one another’s backs. I read somewhere that working moms spend more time with their kids now than stay-at-home moms did in the 70s. I think women today have different standards or a measurement of perfection, and I don’t think it’s necessarily for the better.

SH: Our jobs don’t end. Work is always on. We figure it out and we’re really good at communicating what our work and home needs are. Work when you need to work (not just when you could, be selective) and when you need to come in late or leave early or whatever for something happening with life, make that a priority and build in time for it. Let’s not talk about balance. Balance changes daily. Your priorities are constantly shifting and you need to be able to zig and zag.

SL: Agencies are by their nature in a perpetual state of change and evolution and constantly responding to the demands of the work. Work/life balance is about dancing that line of needing to always be available and on and finding your own way of carving out time for yourself.

LJ: I agree with what everyone is saying. Some days it’s all about work and those deadlines and needs take a front seat and my real-life takes a passenger seat. Part of working at WONGDOODY is that you are surrounded by this great team of people who are all interested in, and committed to doing their best work, which helps foster a culture of trust and stellar communication. I’m able to lean on my coworkers when I need to and vice versa without it being a negative.

Some of you have been with WONGDOODY for the better part of -- some more than -- a decade. What is it about the company that has kept you there for so many years? What has changed for you personally and professionally in that time?

SH: Ha, why am I still here!? It’s been great. I started out as an intern in my early 20’s and have grown a lot professionally and personally. WD has seen me through my dating days, to getting engaged and married, through both of my kids being born -- and my job has grown and changed as I have grown and changed. What I appreciate about this place is that you can ask yourself, “What do I want out of my job right now and in the future,” and answer that for yourself, and then communicate that to your peers and superiors. You can change and grow. I feel like I’ve had eight jobs here. I feel empowered. You have to recognize opportunities for yourself, though, and tell people what you want – but the fact that opportunities exist in the first place is great, and there’s SO much support from everyone when you have an idea for something or want to change. Everyone wants one another to be challenged, fulfilled and happy, and understands that careers evolve.

SL: It’s the people you work with every day who make the job rewarding and make the culture what it is. There is no other agency like WONGDOODY and it’s what sets us apart. It’s a place that rewards smart thinking and growth and has continued to give employees the trust and autonomy to do their jobs well. We’re careful about hiring smart, driven, responsible people who can add to the culture and help carry things forward and who help fuel the fire of constant growth and innovation.

CH: I haven’t been formally with the company a decade, but my first time working with WD on a freelance basis was nearly a decade ago. During that time I’ve bounced around from place to place wondering where will I go next, as none of the places I worked at really resonated enough to make me want to dedicate more of myself -- even to the point of considering I had possibly outgrown the agency life or maybe it had outgrown me. I also went from single, to married, to motherhood. What’s always kept me interested in and excited to work for WD is the environment, the people. It’s supportive yet challenging, demanding yet rewarding. And it’s a place where I ask myself what can I improve on next, not where do I want to go next. There’s a dedication. That speaks volumes. That’s huge.

LJ: Definitely the people and the ability to stretch and actively -- and sometimes aggressively -- pursue career growth right where I am. I know I wouldn’t still be at WONGDOODY almost 10 years later if there hadn’t been so many opportunities for me to say, “I want to do X, and here’s how I can see it benefiting the agency.” Having my peers and bosses support me in those efforts (even when, especially when, I wasn’t succeeding) was and continues to be key. I think it makes working for a living a much richer experience and as a result I’m more invested in seeing my co-workers succeed -- almost like family -- than I otherwise would be. In my personal life I think that having a richer work life that’s less angst filled and more secure helps me be a whole person outside of my job. I’m not worried about office politics or my place.

Is there any formal mentorship/professional development among the teams at WONGDOODY?

LJ: No, there’s not really a formal mentoring structure once you’re a full-time employee. It’s more self-driven. You can identify a growth area for yourself or for a co-worker and then find support internally or externally to help you develop. No one will call you out for asking questions or saying you want to check out something to see what it’s all about. We also do a lot of work with student groups. We have a mentoring program with the University of Washington AdClub, our staff teaches at SVC in Seattle and at Arts Center in LA, and [Chairman] Tracy Wong is very active with the University of Oregon. [Executive Creative Director] Pam Fujimoto also has led the effort launching our new and improved WONGTERN program -- which is so much fun it makes me wanna WONGTERN

SL: WD puts a lot of focus on continuous improvement, which not only plays out in classes and conferences, but also in encouraging employees to consistently reach beyond their role and their department to grow and innovate. This has played out with things like a studio designer learning to write radio and TV scripts from a copywriter, a creative learning to write basic code from a developer, or a print producer taking a class in basic circuitry so that he can learn to create experiential executions on his own. It’s a supportive place for growth in any direction.

SL: There also is a lot of cross-mentoring that’s a part of everyday development. We are intensely collaborative (and direct) and as a part of that, folks help one another every day by acknowledging one anothers’ strengths and by gently bringing awareness to areas where co-workers need help – and offering that help and guidance.

What do you look for in candidates when expanding your teams?

SL: A cultural fit is a huge imperative. Lots of folks have the technical skills to do any job we’re hiring for but in particular, I look for folks that are entrepreneurial, perpetually curious and who desire to be part of a highly collaborative team that expects constant growth. Ego-less personalities with excellent communication skills are also crucial.

LJ: Flexible thinkers. Craftsmen. People who aren’t afraid to do things, make things, speak up or support someone else’s ideas. Self-directing. People who want to be here and contribute to solving client problems.

SH: Get-shit-done-rs. People with the right mix of attitude and drive who aren’t afraid of taking the reigns and jumping right in. Good communicators. Skill is of course important, but personality is HUGE. The “how” weighs a little more to me than the “what”.

CH: Self-managers. People who demonstrate initiative and curiosity. Team players.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women in the workplace? Do you think the challenges for women are different working in advertising?

SH: I think we have it better than a lot of women. We are all examples, along with [Managing Director] Skyler Mattson, Pam Fujimoto, [Group Account Director] Megan Meagher -- of women in leadership roles. It’s our responsibility to speak out -- and up -- and support one another so we keep away from being locked into just “the girl angle” or “the soft touch”. It’s a super male-heavy industry, but the males we work with seem to support our voices in the room, and we’re there because of what we bring to the table, not because they’re trying to balance the ratio out. I think our quality of work speaks for us earning the roles we have, and WD is a gender-agnostic oasis compared to a lot of other places out there.

JF: It’s been funny to come into advertising from a more tech/digital background. Digital is so male centric b/c it’s dev-centric, which is primarily men between 20 and 40. The danger for me and other women at digital agencies is it’s easy to fall into the trap of a typical female role -- the coddler, the treat bringer, the mom -- in order to drive work through the agency and on deadline. I don’t feel that in the WONGDOODY environment where we are 50 percent.

CH: I’d like to see more females in leadership roles in our creative department (ACD/CDs). I think the challenge there is that there’s a high bar (for both men and women) but more hurdles for women to have to jump through in order to prove themselves worthy of the title of CD.

LJ: Having more diverse leadership in the creative department is definitely something we look for and are fostering in the junior members of our staff. At a junior level you can start to lead without authority. And how could I forget -- hiring Pam Fujimoto as ECD in our LA office was a huge win for us on so many levels. She’s a great example of leadership in the agency.

What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned during your career?

SH: Leadership lesson: Surround yourself with good, smart people. It makes your job easier to do.

SL: Giving staff the freedom and encouragement to explore, make mistakes and grow is imperative. Consistently encourage people to move out of their comfort zone. Then they are likely to see that they are more capable and talented than they even thought. I am grateful to those folks who have done that for me over the course of my career.

CH: Leadership lesson: If there’s something you want, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Write a proposal. Do the work that it takes to get to where you want to be. Remind people that they need to drive their own growth. As their boss I can help clear a path, but they have to be invested in their own future.

LJ: Listen and respect, but be decisive and responsible and state the goal in an actionable way. Like Steph said, it’s so important to surround yourself with smart, good people at every level and then get out of the way.

How do you see the advertising industry evolving in the next five years?

SL: The disciplines in agencies that are involved in execution will change even more rapidly than what we’ve even seen in the last 10 years – even the last 5. There will be less of a distinction between the disciplines in production and execution – everything will continue to become much more experiential, while pushing the boundaries of rapid ideation and iteration and a faster development stream of totally new methods of execution. On a more practical note, I think the client march toward project-based fees vs. retainer will continue to drive a change in staffing. Fewer full-time staff, and more freelance. More flexible teams providing instant agility.

LJ: I think fathers and younger staff will start asking for balance and flexibility. From my perspective, working moms have really helped lead that change in an agency environment (which I don’t think has been easy at all). But I think folks are taking notice and recognizing that it’s really the best for families, for outside interests that feed their souls and industry benefits/perks will change to meet that demand.

SH: I think that’s true because I think that women will demand that of their partners. Like we’re 50/50 in this family and we both work, so we have to figure it out as a family. In terms of what we’re creating, I think that broadcast and digital will be best friends and buddies. It’s so related and entertainment and content on screens. And the way that advertisers will have to start to serve the cord cutters will be digital delivery of high production value video and stories.

JF: Yes, the story starts to be all around the audience.

CH: I think we’ll see more specific targeting to the audience's in relation to where they are along the customer journey, inclusive of all media (traditional, digital, mobile, experiential). This will require much broader thinking on how to reach them and therefore include some really exciting demonstrations of the work.

LJ: Yes to ALL of the above. Things will just be more complex and less linear. I think there will be less division by medium. The lines are already blurred. I see traditional agencies working across digital/social/experiential and see digital agencies working across traditional/social/experiential. I think an emergent role will be the “architect/foreman” who wrangles all the different partners contributing to the whole. I think it’s exciting that there really are no rigid lines -- and as an agency you can seek out partners in completely different disciplines -- not just advertising/production/design -- to do awesome things. The work will be better for it.