Women In Media: It’s DWA’s Jacquelyn Cowardin

Women In Media: It’s DWA’s Jacquelyn Cowardin

As we near our exciting Women in Media event on Friday August 19, we chat to DWA ANZ’s group business director Jacquelyn Cowardin about writing a novel, oversized dogs and Nutella.

Describe your average day?

Is there really an average day in this industry!? There’s always a blend of emails, con-calls, hand shakes, lunches, and staff meetings…but mostly, I’m a problem solver.

My average day is filled with me resolving challenges. From our clients’ business solutions to helping our talent grow into their own media shoes, problem solving at our agency continues to define itself in a unique market.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

One of the most challenging aspects of advertising and media is that the final outcome is contingent on so many variables – our clients’ digital ecosystems are complex and we only have insight into a small portion of the puzzle.

From asking questions that allow you to be a true partner, to understanding their sales cycle and reviewing their site architecture and page aesthetics…it can be quite challenging, but also part of the fun when creating the campaign.

What drives you?

Relationships with our staff, and their continued growth and excitement for this industry. I feel that I was very lucky in the career path that I found—it’s always been a perfect blend of branding and finance. It kept me excited year after year as the industry evolved from traditional into digital.

It’s exciting to share success stories, discuss briefs that sent you on new horizons – I even remember the first time I bought a colour full-page ad as an assistant media planner. When you train a young intern to be more confident, to present with conviction and then two years later you watch them confidently own a presentation in a client meeting you actually get teary eyed with pride – that’s a moment that keeps you going.

Making people successful by adding my excitement of media to our staff and wanting them to be as passionate as I am about our work and their own brand…that’s a huge driving force for me.

What’s the hardest brief you’ve ever received or hardest job to execute?

Our agency focuses on technology clients, who create marketing campaigns based on strict sales leads ROI, very heavy Direct Response based programs. As we’ve moved away from guaranteed lead generation tactics (CPL programs, appointment setting), we began educating our clients on trusting data, trusting technology.

They didn’t provide the brief that stated “we’d like to using emerging ad technology to drive brand generation programs” instead, that was and is our response. We’ve done this successfully with test budgets and setting expectations on a long tail approach to using data and programmatic look-a-like models to find our audiences online.

I left the consumer side of the business about five years ago, after working on brand like Dominos Pizza, Embassy Suites Hotels, IcelandAir and Mentos. My current CEO was at a different agency at the time, and convinced me to move from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco to focus more on strategy and B2B understandings.

I’ve always compared the switch to selling $7.99 pizza to hungry family between 5pm-10pm…to selling $250,000 server infrastructure to a team of 5 IT decision makers. The brief, no matter how simple, is always very complex to reach this group of buyers, to educate them across a research cycle and pass along hot leads to sales teams.

We’ve redefined the brief for B2B companies, and challenged their internal organizations to trust media and technology more than ever before.

What has been your favourite job in media and why?

Well, to add some fun to this conversation, I’ll say my favourite job in media was one time at OMD when I worked on the IcelandAir account…and flew first class to Iceland. The client felt it was important for the team to get to know the country we were advertising.

Lucky for us, we experienced the full travel brochure—soaked in the Blue Lagoon, hiked waterfalls, rode Icelandic horses, visited a puffin island, and ate some of the best seafood in the world. It really is a very under-estimated island and I highly encourage everyone to visit, and fly IcelandAir 😉

However, that wasn’t a defining moment in my career, so it can’t be my favourite…I’d have to say that the role I have now might be my favourite.

Working for a midsize agency, you’re able to wear multiple hats, have your voice heard at every level, and also make your mark when you rise to a challenge. I recently was transferred from our San Francisco office down to run our Sydney team—that in itself is pretty awesome and a once in a lifetime experience. On top of that, I’m in a role where our global leaders have a huge amount of faith and trust in my ability to lead.

At the same time, I’m able to be a student of a new market, while also bringing my learnings from the US abroad. It’s just been a few months, so still a work in progress, but I’ve got expectations that it’ll be the one role I look back on and know it was a pivotal moment in my career.

What would be your ultimate role?

CPO. Chief People Officer! I do love the actual media work, the planning and goals….but it is an agency’s people I want to help amplify the most. I’d like to lead recruitment and talent retention, trainings and connections across our eight global offices.

While we’re a global agency, there’s times when we forget the unite our people on a regular basis…I’ve stepped into this role on different one-off occasions, but as we continue to grow, I see an opportunity for it to evolve fully in years to come.

What’s your proudest professional moment?

Hummmm, there have been a few that stick out—a presentation at a Digiday conference when a peer congratulated me and said I made “ëvery word count” during my presentation on the United Nations.

Another time a very difficult client told my president that he should trust me more—considering it was a client that I respected heavily, it was great measurement that others are confident in my abilities as well. I also think my president had worked with me for a few years, and was finally seeing the years of knowledge come to light.

What’s your quirkiest attribute?

You should ask a few of my teammates for the true answers….a few that stick out, however, might include drafting strategy slides on napkins over lunch, leaving my shoes behind in conference rooms, double checking #s on my TI-83 calculator, and of course singing at my desk (I met one of my best friends that way!).

One thing no one knows about you?

I’ve started writing the same novel about 10 times. It’ll be a best seller in 2025.

What are advertising/marketing’s biggest challenges or threats?

From my eyes, it’s exciting that we’re creating and moulding our industry with more media vehicles and diversity of tactics than ever before. But our decision makers and end users are just as intelligent as us….so I feel that our biggest threats and challenges boil down to trust.

Our end users want to trust their brand experience, and our clients want to trust their agency investment. From there we look at the online journey and also the mechanics of bidding efficiently for our clients sake. Online users don’t see banner ads as a gateway to free publications and access to content, instead they see ads as solicitation and interruption of their own viewing experience, retargeting that’s an online stalking beast, and users that clear their cookie cache weekly.

Yet, consumers still watch the Super Bowl for the next great commercial, with 60 seconds of undivided attention…will we ever get that moment online? I’ll add in, that content has always been the portal that allowed brands to showcase themselves as thought leaders and trusted experts, but we now challenged that trust to utilizing content for ‘trickery’ rather than education, overuse of native, and advertorials that read more like a game show host instead of a journalist.

Our challenge is to make advertising respected by users, understand its value in free access to websites and journalism of publishers’ content. Our threats are the quick buck that’s easily sold—traders not bidding on quality impressions, and data not being dissected to better inform purchase behaviours.

I’ll also add in…agency retention is a huge portal of threats, the large consultancy shops creating in-house media and data teams to their portfolio, and online cyber security. How many words do I have to answer this questions?!

What do you think are the most exciting things in the marketing and creative world at the moment?

Technology has now powered both creative and media, which has been the gateway to creative teams and media teams finally communicating the second a brief comes out the gates!

Even five years ago, you have TV teams buying inventory before knowing messaging or CTA (lets be honest it still happens for traditional media)…but finally with technology resources, we have more teams that ever before communicating, sharing data to create insights and opportunities for client budgets, to heighten their brands positioning through intent signals and relevant messaging while working at the same table!

I ended up at Cannes last year, and was shocked at the number of adtech companies floating round on yachts…and the number of awards and sessions based on media foundations. For an award show that was create to celebrate the creative execution, it’s a great time to be in media!

If you were CEO what would you do differently?

Luckily for me, I get along quite well with our CEO and he’s receptive to my suggestions and commentary most of the time! He’s got a tough job with eight global offices, so my main jump pad would be connecting our people in more ways, sharing more global learnings, and connecting our clients as well.

I also talk with him regularly regarding new employee retention methods, client events, and how we can market the agency in more amplified situations. From a logistical standpoint, I’d say that we should close our doors between Christmas and New Years globally—lets our people have a week off that does not deduct from their PTO or personal days, and get renourished for the next big year!

Hardest lesson you’ve had to learn (in or out of workforce)?

Perhaps it’s not the hardest lesson, but it’s a great lesson…Good Enough Sucks. My old agency CP+B printed it on shirts once, and I don’t think I truly believed the words until you hit a milestone where you know you could be producing more quality work for clients, or that enough time doesn’t exist.

At that point you have to look at your own internal work ethic, and what you want your own brand to stand for…do you want to be just “good enough” or do you want to be great. Well, just “good enough”, sucks. Lets be great. On the more personal side of the fence, I’d say that a very hard lesson in advertising is that you’ll love the people you work with—you’ll meet your best friends, you’ll become their wine nights, their therapy sessions, their airport ride, and their maid-of-honors.

But you’ll need to remember your own professional goals, and when it’s time to change agencies, change states, and change continents. Those best friends won’t just be ex-coworkers, but lifetime accomplices of hard work, dedication, and respect. The hard lesson is letting go for yourself, trusting they’ll be amazing when you’re no longer a desk apart.

Tea or coffee?

Coffee. I miss just a regular drip cup of joe!

Cats or dogs?

Dogs! Oversized and slobbery dogs.

Guilty pleasure?

Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Rose. And spoonful’s of Nutella

What’s your favourite TV programme?

Of all time or recently??? I’ve always been a fan of 60 Minutes, a great finale to the weekend…but I haven’t subscribed to cable in years though, so I mostly run off of my Apple-TV and subscription based programs.

For my demo, I’m pretty typical: Downton Abby, Scandal, The Bachelor, Suits, Parenthood…John Oliver has been brilliant on Last Week Tonight, trying to wake up America, and Trevor’s done great taking over Jon Stewart seat. Coming up, I’m excited about the Gilmore Girls return to NetFlix and a few new lineups for the new TV season.

What turns you on, emotionally, creatively, spirituality?

My boss just said “ohhhh, that is a loaded question to ask an American!” Hahah, he’s very correct. It’s a loaded question, but something we should all reassess and ask ourselves regularly. I’m a highly positive person, glass half full and all that jazz. I inherited that from my mother who’s been a special education teacher her whole life.

People helping people, that’s probably the answer to evolution and our continued existence, but it’s sometimes taken too lightly. Who did you help today? Who could I have helped me? Emotionally, we all strive to do better…when you see others that do that, it’s extremely powerful and motivating. Creatively, I am a very visual person and love art but have zero element of creativity in my bones.

A college friend of mine once bought a red golf kart, named it Christine and drove it across America asking people what their Art was…kART Across America (you’re welcome for the plug, mate!)…but he and his HS bestie challenged others to not greet someone new with the question of ‘what do you do, or where did you go to school’, but instead “what is your Art?” From story telling, to cement pourers, it was an amazing experiment and look into society’s view of art.

I’ve never really had a great answer for what my own art would be, what drives me creatively, but I’ve usually stated that ‘connecting people’ was my art. Bringing people together, shared moments, and memories. I finally purchased a professional camera with the move down under, so I’m dabbling into that arena, but there’s so much beauty to capture in this world!

Spiritually, I think it’s important to know what your own value system is, your beliefs in this world, and what gives you hope that each day we’re going to wake up to a brand new round of possibilities (yes, I really do think like this!). A friend once told me I was really lucky to be this happy without medication…and I’d never thought of it that way, instead just knowing how powerful hope can be.

We can only control our own actions, so we should all try to recognize the attributes of ourselves that we’re proud of, that we want to continuously work on, that we have belief of how great we can all be. Nike has an advert that just states ‘Yesterday you said today’ I mean. Yes!

What turns you off?

Laziness, complacency, complaining and a lack of gumption.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?


What profession would you not like to do?

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a journalist and a reporter in the field…when I look at that career now, in an instantaneous world, I wonder where real journalism versus political and financial power takes place. Between biases and short sighted ‘click-worthy’ stories and articles, I think the media has done an injustice to our people wanting quality news.

Publishers watched as Twitter became a true newsfeed of eye-witnesses, an landmine of aggregated content and such publishers created their own recaps on sites. Publishers have it rough though, which pushes into reporters. A gradual decline in print publications, less print ad revenue, it can’t be easy for a budding journalist today. I’m still a fan and respect the prowess behind the scenes it must take.

Long form journalism can be quite beautiful and revealing—I’m a huge fan of the Atlantic properties, Vanity Fair covers an amazing array of stories and behind the scenes vulnerabilities of it’s cover men and women, even Rolling Stone provides in-depth moments and interviews that are intended for a great sit-down and paper read, staying offline.

But those long-form articles, they get chopped and snipped and teased for more impressions online. Am I to blame being on this side of media, perhaps I’m not helping…but I still feel like we’re perhaps mistreating our content and the power of the written word. So, to answer this…it’s not what I wouldn’t want to do, but what I no longer want to do.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Is that even an option? There are always plenty of bills to pay! Honestly though, I had been working at media agencies for about three years, and was BURNT out. I’d eat three meals a day at my desk, forget to call home, and wasn’t taking care of myself too well.

It was during a pretty big recession in the states, so if you didn’t do your job 100%, someone else would. It was that fear of failing, that kept me from never giving up. However, I was offered a gig in-house at a large telecom brand, and I jumped at the prospects of working only 8 hour days, working with the full brand picture, and leading the agency….end result….I was bored out of my mind in-house!!!

I headed right back to a new agency within three months! I’ve never even interviewed in-house since. Does agency life burn us out, are we extreme multi-taskers and managing 10 projects daily, yup…but it’s in my blood now. Might just be a media lifer!

What are the pearls of wisdom you know now, that you wish you knew when they were younger?

I’ll repeat what I’ve mention previously ‘Good Enough Sucks’… along with, take a walk when the office gets too much, fresh air can do amazing work for the mind and body…and your coworkers!

What is your favourite word?

WE. We’re all in this together! No single person at an agency acts alone…and when I finally read emails or hear the team say WE instead of ME, I’m very happy. I mean, WE’RE very happy.

What is your least favourite word?

NO. Why would you ever say this word?!


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