Embracing Creativity And Innovation Is A “Business Imperative”, Says Puffling Founder Lija Wilson

Embracing Creativity And Innovation Is A “Business Imperative”, Says Puffling Founder Lija Wilson
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

Advertising can drive change and lead the way in innovating towards a new and better future of work, if the professionals within it are brave enough to shatter the norm, according to Lija Wilson.

During this year’s B&T Women in Media Awards, presented by Bauer Media, we’ll be recognising exceptional people who have achieved success in their professional arenas, celebrating their invaluable contribution to their industry through leadership, innovation and courage.

Lija Wilson is the founder and chief executive of flexible work platform Puffling, which helps businesses source experienced off-market talent, and promotes gender diversity at senior levels.

Alongside plenty of other accolades, she is also a Women in Media Awards ‘Champion of Change’ finalist.

Recently, Wilson took the time to chat to B&T about why the advertising, marketing and the media industry must recapture what make it special—creativity and innovation—to solve some of our biggest challenges.

Lija, what does ‘fearlessness’ mean to you?

To me, fearlessness is about challenging the status quo and having the strength to voice your ideas and call out things that don’t sit right with you.

It takes courage to question decisions or ways to behave or engage sometimes, but often stepping back and interrogating things in a different light and with a different lens contributes to much greater outcomes, evolution, or innovation.

What does fearlessness in advertising, marketing, or the media look like?

This is an industry which prides itself on innovation and creativity when solving problems for brands. Those who have the most success and leave the greatest legacy are those who have been bold enough to act differently but maintain the greatest sense of authenticity.

That applies for work and outputs as well as the way an agency or client builds their team, fosters their culture, and aligns their work to a set of values.

It’s great to produce award winning work, but the internal values and approach to working and collaborating need to also align to fresh ways of working, thinking and collaborating without barriers—and to accept that great ideas are the domain of everyone.

Who do you know who has shown these qualities since the COVID-19 pandemic struck?

There have been a lot of great examples during COVID of businesses who have delivered campaigns from inception to go live entirely remotely—imagine accepting this as a standard way of producing creative six months ago. It would have been so difficult to get off the ground yet it’s forced everyone to think more laterally about the talent you engage, the way you take feedback, the aspects of collaboration and also the speed and delivery.

There have been some great examples of businesses launching during this time and a heightened level of consideration to purpose, which is so fantastic. Examples such as Decade of Action launching and new brands such as Cannabiz coming to life through this period.

Hats off also to everyone who has used this time to pivot—it’s been a ride or die for many businesses and it’s a brave move to back a new model or path but it can really be the best decision ever.

What is an issue in the industry that keeps you up at night?

Gender diversity at executive levels, driven by 50 per cent of women leaving this industry entirely after having a child.

Talent who invest years of service and can’t return or stay in an industry they love due to a lack of progression and career alignment or support for flexible work options. I’m hoping the proof we have seen of the latter being a challenge will start to rapidly shift that side of the retention curve.

Do you believe the advertising, marketing and media industry has been ‘fearless’ in 2020?

If I had to speak generally, I would agree that the vast majority have shifted their thinking and interrogated their models and ways of working with successful outcomes.

However, I am still really frustrated to hear of others say that they are making plans to revert to previous ways of working as soon as they are able because this is a tough service industry and it relies on face to face collaboration and management to work. This attitude is not fearless.

This is exactly the opportunity to present a new case of how to thrive, develop cultures differently, hire differently and deliver more value—especially in service industries.

What are ad-land’s three biggest strengths?

The industry still attracts some of the best and brightest minds in Australia, in particular as graduates for young professionals.

Ad-land still has an amazing external brand—it’s an industry many still consider to be the most innovative, forward thinking and exciting. It’s an exciting, all encompassing, big hearted community of talent who are drawn to it for the people, the blue sky and the commercial challenges and probably still a bit of the glitz and buzz. This needs to be showcased and celebrated.

This is an industry which has the ability to really, truly, properly drive change and lead the way in innovating towards a new and better future of work.

This is the ideas industry—that’s what ad-land gets paid to do, to solve big ass challenges and simplify. This is the time for the industry to absolutely take charge of thought leadership and action for the future of work and showcase how good the industry is at solving for big problems with the best creative solutions and innovation.

What are ad-land’s three biggest challenges?

There are not nearly enough women in senior creative positions.

Women control the vast majority of purchasing decision across all categories yet we’re still not seeing enough consideration to the recruitment of specialist women creating campaigns and producing strategy and plans from agencies.

Diversity needs to be more than a strategic pillar or special project—which means it needs to be understood by everyone and baked into every aspect of the way we consider attracting talent, engaging with audiences, influencers, insights and problem solving. We’re beyond the point of classifying diversity in the industry as a charitable initiative. This is not a cause, it’s not a nice thing to do—it’s a commercial and socially led business imperative.

We’re facing a new era of even greater accountability and commercial pressure pretty much across the board—and this means a different way of thinking across all agencies and all layers.

How would you solve these challenges?

Almost 70 per cent of graduates in creative are female yet only 15–18 per cent (depending on the source you reference) of creative directors are female. We need to stop the ‘women have babies so don’t want to come back to those jobs’ playback. There aren’t enough babies to account for that being the only reason and other industries will show that even if that were the case, this is not a block for retaining top female talent.

Marketers and clients need to lead the charge and be more bold and fearless in their choices with who they engage and why they choose to give their business to suppliers and partners. We know that consumers value and support diversity, we also know that diversity is not something you should support to be a nice person, diverse teams generate better outcomes and performance and deliver better insights.

If you’re working with or for a brand with female skewed purchasing power, brand custodians need to simply mandate true focus and senior level thinking from females on the creative, strategy, planning and media side. I’ve seen people recruit for women to come in as basically project pitch teams, fine— but not fine if they all leave as soon as the business lands which is what is often happening.

We know that technology has made today’s way of marketing increasingly personalised. Budgets are going to be tighter than ever. Clients are only going to spend budgets on things that work—it’s not rocket science, it means shifting internal cultures towards the whole business, at every level, understanding business drivers and linking commercial outcomes.

We need to do more in the areas of training and transparency for everyone. We’re in a completely new era of business now.

Buy tickets to the event here, which will be held on Wednesday 28 October 2020, at Doltone House (Jones Bay Wharf).

And, if you’d like more information, head to this website.

Shortlist announced: Wednesday 23 September 2020.

Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors for making the event possible! 

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