As Australia’s most powerful female ad agency executive, Publicis Mojo’s Joe Pollard is on a mission to address gender equality. Lucy Clark finds out more
From media agency to client-side to creative, Joe Pollard has sat on all sides of the fence and travelled the world. But, as CEO of one of Australia’s biggest creative agencies, her current role at Publicis Mojo has cemented her in Australia’s Adland.
A proud “country girl” from Armidale in New South Wales, Pollard took on the top job based at the agency’s Sydney office last June after quitting as CEO at Ninemsn and taking six months out.
By that point, Pollard had risen rapidly through the ranks at Mindshare, Nike and Ninemsn – taking only six-week breaks when she had her two sons.
Remembering her last week at Ninemsn, she says: “I was walking with my son and it dawned on me he was about to be in high school. I didn’t want to get to the stage where I didn’t know my kids well, and I decided if I don’t take time out now, it will never happen. So I quit the next week and had six wonderful months, doing everything you do when you take a career break.”
Pollard consulted for Fox Sports, then took the top job at Publicis Mojo after being head-hunted. During her first seven months, she put pitching to one side and focused on the existing business – and on developing what she calls Mojo 3.0.
“Publicis Mojo has been a strong creative brand for years,” she says. “After the early Mojo years, the last 15 to 20 years has been about creating big strategies and big ideas. What I am leading now is Mojo 3.0, keeping the DNA of the agency, but evolving it to be relevant in a new digital world.”
Since those seven non-pitching months, Publicis Mojo has won Tourism NT and Queensland’s Personalised Plates as new clients. The last six months has also seen the closure of Mojo New Zealand, about which Pollard says: “Whenever you’re evolving a business you have to respect the past but also get rid of anything that’s holding you back. They ran an incredibly good agency, that should be remembered, but it’s time for the next generation of Mojo.”
Pollard brings with her experience of sitting on all sides of the industry. “With every job move I’ve changed the side of the fence I’m on,” she says. “Every job has given me a different view of the problem, which means I can bring a different view to the solution.”
She cites the day she took on the CEO position at Ninemsn as one of the toughest. After 10 years working on media for Nike, Pollard ran Nine’s marketing before her Ninemsn role. “It was a leap of faith for Ninemsn,” she says. “The hardest job you will ever get is your first CEO job, because you have no experience.”
But it was her time as global media director for Nike in Oregon that was perhaps her most life-changing. During those eight years, Pollard had her two sons, now 11 and 13. Rather than putting her career on hold for motherhood, she combined the two – and her career accelerated fast. As a result, she believes Australia could learn a lot from the US when it comes to supporting working mums.
“In the US, the support for women to be back at work after having a baby is significantly better,” she says. “We should be supporting women to get back to full-time work as quickly as possible, not encouraging them to have 12 months off.
“Most of the great career women I have lost from the system in Australia have chosen to take their foot off the accelerator when they’ve had a baby because it’s been too hard to come back.”
She cites Nike’s on-site cr√®che, America’s open attitude to job sharing and its incentives such as family care programs as contributors to its more “family friendly” way of life. And, of course, a supportive husband has helped her get to where she is today. “My husband has his own business but he pretty much looks after the family,” she adds.
Pollard’s ambition and experience make her a great role model and she devotes time to mentoring and speaking out in support of diversity. “Diversity is important to a vibrant organisation,” she argues. “Through diversity comes a dynamic workplace. I do a lot of mentoring and coaching, mostly to help women with self-confidence.”
To that end she promotes diverse interview pools when recruiting. “If you are interviewing three candidates, make sure at least one of them is female,” she says. “If you create a diverse pool but still hire on merit, you will change the balance.”
But simply acknowledging the gender imbalance is the first step, Pollard adds. “In Australia, we don’t acknowledge that a diverse workforce is better – and there is no consequence if you don’t have one. In the US, companies are rewarded for their diversity policies.”
So what’s next for the agency? When it comes to gender equality, she’s already implemented her first senior job share, the TV producer role, and vows to do this whenever it’s needed.
But “the single most important thing” is to do good work for clients. “We want to be known for doing things as innovatively in the digital space as in the traditional space,” says Pollard. Training and staff development is also getting primary emphasis. “It’s incredibly important – your people are your currency.”