Gift of the Gabberer: Sharon Condy
3 creative leaders from diverse backgrounds share their views. Sharon Condy is a Creative Director at Ogilvy Melbourne. She's worked there for more than 4 years on brands like AAMI, BP, Cadbury, HostPlus and Swinburne Online. An award-winning copywriter, she's held senior positions at agencies like AJF, Grey and CHE. When not in work mood, she indulges in her love of travelling and French bulldogs.
G: When and where did you get your start in advertising?
SC: My first gig was at DDB Rapp Collins in Melbourne, in the early 2000s. I learned how to craft 100s of direct mail letter variations and dreamed up some pretty crazy ways to get paper into mailboxes. Starting in Direct also taught me to think in non-traditional ways from the start.
G: What was the culture like then?
SC: While many agencies had a fairly one-dimensional demographic, our team was an eclectic mix of young and older creatives and expats, making it an interesting place to work.
G: Where there many women in the Creative Department?
SC: There was actually close to a 50/50 split. I noticed a big contrast when I went on to work in a department where I was one of only two female creatives. I think this was more typical of most agencies at the time.
G: What about agency leadership?
SC: I worked under a female CD team and 15 years ago that was pretty rare. Brilliant, patient, wise humans whose leadership styles and lessons still come to me today as I help lead our teams. I was lucky to have that experience because it showed me what was possible for my own career. Diversity at the top is so important.
G: Do you think it's changed over the years?
I do think it’s changing, no doubt thanks to the spotlight on gender equality in our industry over the past few years. Our own team is fairly balanced and the CDs who are female actually outnumber the guys. That said, we still have a way to go as an industry. According to The 3% Movement, only 29% of Creative Director roles are held by women.
Encouragingly, there seems to be a growing awareness that diverse agencies lead to better work and in turn, better agencies.
As Cindy Gallop put it: “Diversity drives creativity, which drives profitability”. That’s not to say that creatives can’t deliver good work for a breadth of target audiences and topics. Understanding human problems is part of the job, but I’ve also experienced how hearing from more varied creative voices leads to unique insights and ideas we’d never otherwise unearth.
G: Australian agencies still tend to be very Anglo-Celtic. How do agencies ensure people from culturally diverse backgrounds aren’t left out?
People in advertising tend to hire who they know, and people who get into advertising often know someone in the industry. The bigger effort we make to create diverse agencies now, the more likely we are to attract diverse talent in the future.
As well as building the right teams, it’s up to us to create the kind of places where diversity thrives. The best creative environments I’ve worked in are positive ones where people feel empowered to express their ideas, differences and opinions. This feels more important now than ever.
Making agencies inclusive also goes beyond culture and gender. I recently came across an idea for a program called Western Sydney School, an affordable creative advertising course Sydney-siders who ‘don’t live in the Eastern suburbs’. It would be great to see more initiatives like this that remove barriers and attract talent to the industry.
G: Most ads continue to reflect a very beautiful-young-white-person image. Is Australia behind the rest of the world when it comes to showing a broader spectrum of humanity? And is this down to clients or the agency?
It’s hard to say if we’re behind. Lack of diversity seems to be a universal advertising problem! Talking about Australia though, a recent Getty Images survey suggested 76% of Aussies think that brands need to do more to represent Australians authentically and 46% say that advertising often stereotypes and over-generalises diversity.
I genuinely believe that these days clients and agencies want to reflect a more diverse picture of Australia. And we’ve become a lot better at it than 5-10 years ago, when our advertising was overwhelmingly white and middle class.
Looking back on some old work with my creative partner, we realised that a nearly identical square-jawed, blond-haired male lead talent had been cast in three of our campaigns.
Advertising had a type. We’re not there anymore, but we can also do better.
SC: At planning, concept development and execution stage it’s up to agencies and clients to keep pushing each other to avoid clichés, stereotypes and tokenistic representations.
G: In career terms, you can often divide creative professionals into two camps: the curious accidentals and the ambitious planners. How would you describe your career trajectory?
SC: Let’s go with ambitious planner. My Co-Creative Director (Josh Murrell) and I have worked together almost since the start of our careers.
We’re aligned when it comes to what we value and aspire to, as well as the kind of work we love.
This makes it a lot easier to set substantial goals and stay motivated to achieve them as a team. Having a creative partner who cares as much about your success as you do about theirs is a pretty amazing advantage.
G: While there are more women pushing into CD level, female ECDs are still quite rare. What do you think is driving that inequality?
I think there are several possible reasons. Unconscious bias in the hiring process, few visible role models and according to research women are less likely to self-promote than men. Then there’s a creative department culture that traditionally rewarded consistently long hours spent in the office. That expectation has made it harder for women returning to work after having kids to imagine success in the role, or to be recognised as a candidate.
Still, I’m optimistic things are changing. More female CDs means more potential ECDs. Many agencies have quotas in place, including WPP’s target of 50:50 gender distribution across senior leadership positions by 2021.
With agencies promoting diversity and inclusivity, improved parental leave and flexible work, I really look forward to seeing this translate to support for today’s senior creative women as they set their sights on bigger leadership roles.
DPL: What were the biggest challenges for you taking the step up into CD?
SC: One of the challenges was growing confidence in my own personal style as a leader.
Advertising has attracted a lot of big personalities over the years and I’m no extrovert. Having the right support and freedom to be myself in the role really helped.
DPL: Can you talk us through a recent project of which you are really proud?
SC: We recently worked on a great idea with one of our teams for Swinburne Online. As an online university, they offer an accessible, flexible study alternative study for people who don’t fit the mould for traditional higher education, whether that’s new mums studying in preparation to re-enter the workforce, millennials travelling the world, career changers or people with disabilities.
The 6 Word Scholarship challenged traditional universities by being the world’s first uni to offer a scholarship from a social media post. Based on Ernest Hemingway's legendary six-word story (For sale: baby shoes, never worn.), we took applications for a communications scholarship directly in the comments on social media. Every original story that adhered to the six-word limit was considered a successful application.
DPL: What would your advice be to young female creatives entering the industry today? How would you encourage them to stay the course?
SC: Just focus on being a great creative. Your big ideas will get you that next job, get you noticed in the industry or land you that dream role overseas.
Develop your own personal style and never feel pressure to change it to fit into a particular working environment.
Seek out mentors who inspire you and learn everything you can from them. Don’t shy away from self-promotion. And most of all, enjoy. As far as jobs go, this is definitely one of the weirder and more wonderful ones.