One-on-one With MediaCom ECD (And 3% Conference Speaker) Gemma Hunter

One-on-one With MediaCom ECD (And 3% Conference Speaker) Gemma Hunter

With The 3% Conference fast approaching, we thought it would be a grand idea to profile one of the speakers for the event – MediaCom’s global executive creative director (ECD), Gemma Hunter.

Tell us about your career to date?

I am a global content specialist with 20-plus years’ leadership, content strategy, creative, production, distribution, PR, brand and marketing experience.

At MediaCom, I lead the global content creative team as executive creative director and head MediaCom Beyond Advertising (MBA) in Australia. I also oversee marketing and PR for MediaCom nationally from my home base in Melbourne.

I’ve spent the last seven years with MediaCom. Prior to that, I’ve worked across global, pan-Europe, Japan, Korea, Australia and the Asia Pacific. Starting in Radio with Kiss FM in the UK, then onto MTV International for eight years where I rose to vice president of international marketing partnerships, then spent four years at TBWA London as the managing director of the brand entertainment division, Stream.

The 3% Conference came about because not long ago in the US just 3 per cent of ECD-level employees at agencies were female. Why do you think this scenario has arisen, and what’s the first step to redressing the balance?

There are many reasons, some the same globally and some more workplace-specific. I think the universal reason is that, as science proves we have a predisposition as humans to ‘hire in our own image’, it’s a comfort thing, and usually a subconscious decision. So, if your own image is a white middle-class bloke (as it is at management and senior creative level in many agencies), now and historically, its no surprise that’s what continues.

Having personally experienced sexism in several places (although never at MediaCom), I know how tough it can be to be heard, be seen and be treated equally. The first step to redressing the balance is The 3% Conference. The next step is ensuring that we create and drive a support network and program for both men and women in our industry to create a step change.

When did you become ECD at MediaCom? How did it feel, and was it something you’d long aspired to?

April 2015. I can honestly say I hadn’t really given it a huge amount of thought and the promotion was a surprise. I’d fought breast cancer for the 18 months prior, we had been discussing the role before I was diagnosed, but I had to turn it down due to the brutal effects of the treatment. I assumed they’d go ahead and hire while I was unwell, but luckily they waited for me. The words It’s you we want, not just any old good creative – of course we waited were the best fuel to get me back on fighting form post treatment. Talk about one big challenge to the next, it’s been quite a life changing couple of years!

What would be your best advice for females who aspire to an ECD-level role (or indeed any high-level or c-suite role)?

My advice would to back yourself and to shout about it. No need to brag, but there is every need to vocalise what you achieve, what you still can achieve and your vision for getting there. Men tend to be more comfortable ‘owning’ their achievements and prowess, I think it’s a nature versus nurture thing – we tend to get on with it more quietly.

I’d also say, try, try and try again. Don’t give up, ever.

In general, what do you think about the level of female participation in Adland? Do you think women are put off careers in the industry because of concerns about progression?

If you look across Adland, there are lots of brilliant women at many levels. The differences are by area and in some cases agency. Many agencies are actively trying to address this.

At MediaCom, we work hard on ensuring that we support people based on their life circumstance – for example, flexibility on hours for mums and dads where possible. I think in general in the industry we need more adaptive approaches to today’s lifestyles. Sweden does a great job – we could take learnings there.

For anyone who is worried about progression, I’d suggest they get a mentor, find a sponsor and take charge of their destiny. Ask yourself: if you can’t get what you want where you are, is that because it’s never going to be available? Do you need to seek an employer with a culture more suited to you? Do you know what that culture is and are you asking about it when you go for interviews?

What five things do you think businesses can do to encourage women/make the path to the top a more even playing field?

  1. Judge on talent not gender.
  2. Create flexibility in working practices and environments.
  3. Ensure you have a mentoring programme in place, ideally with mentors outside your organisation.
  4. Provide coaching where needed. Creatives tend to be great at craft but often lack leadership skills.
  5. Take a good, hard, honest look at your business and listen to what your people are saying. If you have a problem, don’t just issue a press release or a cute campaign. ACT on it!

What sort of hurdles to progression have you encountered in your career and how can other women counter them?

The worst was being told I just don’t feel comfortable with a woman at this level” when being passed over for promotion for the third time. My only option was to go to HR as clearly this was outright sexism, but I was worried I’d become known as ‘the girl that kicked up a fuss’. Isn’t that awful?

So, instead every time I encountered that man, I behaved like him. I got the promotion, but I’d lost sight of what made me me – I’d become a ‘bloke’ in a woman’s body. I had a massive identity crisis. He then left and I went on a journey of rediscovery. What I learnt from that is I am resilient – you fight me and I will fight you back, but in a much more subtle manner, you can’t intimidate me no matter how hard you try.

Looking back, I thank him for that experience. He now has two teenage daughters and I’m mentoring him – karma baby, it’s fabulous!

Is there anything else you’d like to add around The 3% Conference?

Thank you B&T for putting your power and commitment behind this, together we really can make a difference.

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3% Conference Advertising Standards Bureau agency Gemma Hunter

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