Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gals We Admire: Nancy Vonk

Nancy Vonk oversaw a large part of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which has become a shining example of how advertising can shift the way society thinks. Get the scoop on what this advertising guru's day entails, and find out what she considers to be the biggest challenge in her industry.

Name: Nancy Vonk
Job Title: Co-Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy Toronto
Website: (Ask Jancy)
Twitter handle: @nancyvonk

Describe your typical work day, from start to finish
There is no real "typical" day, and it's ne of the reasons this job is never boring. So I'll just say yesterday, I got to work at 9 after a morning walk (made possible by my typical insomnia routine of getting up at 5.) I checked out a piece about women in advertising in the ROB magazine called Mad Women, which included a bit about me and Janet Kestin, my partner. Our co-worker Coby was in a shot with us (set up to look like he was upset at being left out of the girls' club). He was mortified.

Off to a meeting with Kraft clients, where we heard great results for one of our brands and debated the merits/dangers of "optimizing" a spot that's already driving record sales. Also discussed strategy for a new, expensive line extension for a brand known for its modest cost. A really tricky one to figure out. Left feeling grateful for a trusting, enjoyable relationship with these clients, and excited about tackling some big challenges (a favourite part of the job—solving the puzzle).

Next up, a call with another client to discuss their feedback after sitting with creative solutions a couple of days before. It had been a long slog to that meeting, but we had a "home run" presentation at last. The senior client confirmed we would focus on delivering one baby, not try for multiple "big ideas". I loved that he saw things my way—a truly big idea is hard to come by and we're really happy to see one right in front of us. So let's not diffuse energies on pursuing more of them. I shared the conversation with the creative team afterwards. There's nothing like that moment of knowing you have a green light on a blockbuster.

Next, a drop-in on an art director who needed some coaching on presentation skills. We talked about what works for her already, and how to take some simple steps to go into the room with a story that does justice to the ideas. A sensitive discussion that went well. A good feeling to help her up her game. Went on to hang out with Janet for a few minutes, just back from an ad school in San Fransisco where she did portfolio reviews. We talked about some unusual teaching strategies she saw there. Gossiped. Then talked about how we'd approach entering a couple of upcoming awards shows. Organized the Monday creative department meeting agenda. A writer came in to show me his latest scripts for a campaign with a particularly eccentric client, who had literally cried tears of joy the day before when she saw the newest creative. We wondered how disturbing that sight might have been for her new underling. Agreed that tears of joy beats tears of rage (which I have experienced with another client).

Next up, discussed summer intern choices with Janet. We've always had great experiences with interns and spotting the right people is key. Agreed to offer a woman I saw at Portfolio Night the previous evening the writer's slot. Some great ideas, not as much digital thinking as we'd hope but the potential seems to be there. The day before I found the art director, an excitable guy who showed up in a suit on top and shorts and sandals below. Could have been a trying-too-hard misfire but he was compelling. So we're set.

I then looked at a couple of portfolios online. Did a bunch of email exchanges with an account director who even going through dental surgery was checking in on stuff. Saw an email that a prospective client won't be announcing their decision on agency today as planned. Oh well, at least if it's bad news, a weekend spared of wringing of hands. I have a good feeling about this one. Great brands, smart clients that seem to share my perspective on what good looks like. Headed out by 6:45 in search of a good movie. Thrilled it was Friday. Okay, enough detail for you?

When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
I had no idea. I didn't choose my major until my junior year at the University of Delaware, but when I did, it was the right path and I've stayed the course lo these many years. I owe the choice to a dynamic young teacher named Ray Nichols who gave a presentation to people who didn't know what to focus on. He made the advertising program look like a party. It was actually incredibly hard work, and I was well prepared to transition to a real job.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Helping others succeed, and especially hearing I played a role in someone's happy career later (sometimes thanks to the book I wrote with Janet, Pick Me).

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your profession?
There are so many, but to be obvious, being a woman and all, I'll say the fact our industry hasn't figured out how to retain women as they hit their mid-30s and help them take the top leadership roles means we're limiting progress with only one gender's point of view. Studies have shown corporations run by women often have exceptional results. The female management style is different and has some significant advantages. We're losing out. And it's embarrassing to appear to be the most Neanderthal of all the industries, frankly.

Do you believe you had a "calling" for your profession?
It's funny to think one would have a "calling" to do ads, but yeah, I suppose I did. Before I could talk, my parents tell me I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, holding a bottle of dish liquid and pretending to be in a commercial selling it. I remember at around age seven or eight drawing storyboards for a soap commercial (Ivory). The benefit? It made little sparkly bubbles when you held it under the bathtub tap. I also used to obsess about cosmetics ads in my mom's Ladies Home Journal. I'd make my own. Special focus on lipstick. I was partial to a sort of coral shade.

What are the three most important pieces of career advice you would give to Canadian Career Gals?
Be assertive—a big issue for women who have trouble demanding what they want and need for success.

Be authentic—don't try to act like a man would, or for that matter assume you should be someone 'better' than you.

Get a mentor, then mentor.


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