“See It & Be It”: Debby Reiner, CEO of Grey New York

Debby Reiner, CEO, Grey New York

“See It & Be It” is part of the 4A’s women and diversity leadership series. Here, Debby Reiner, CEO of Grey New York, shares her thoughts on promoting diversity and gender equality in the industry.

In 2017, why do you think it’s still necessary to talk about opportunities for women in the industry, and how women are portrayed in advertising?

We need to talk about the need for equality until we’ve clearly reached equality. Until more women are in leadership positions across all disciplines, and until we actively include their perspectives as part of our industry’s culture, our potential is still limited. And one issue begets the other, in terms of portrayals: Improving the representation of women in all aspects of the business of advertising will improve our potential for greater insight, storytelling, connection and effectiveness.

It pains me that we still need to have this discussion, but the data shows that we do. We’ve come a long way, mind you — and certainly, we must all strive for progress versus perfection.

Do you think women, people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities face similar issues in the ad industry?

Women, people of color, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities are grossly underrepresented in marketing and yet invaluable to the future of our business. We must know by now: the secret to a modern agency’s success is diversity — diversity of thought and experience and ideas that can reach different markets and different minds.

That said, once our industry includes people with more varied backgrounds and perspective, that’s when the real work begins. If you’re focusing on diversity of thought – rather than diversity of demographics – your work may be disjointed. We have to work together, get over our social discomfort, and reinvent the advertising ecosystem. We need to create an environment that connects people in new ways, combining very disparate perspectives and talents to create the true innovation needed for our future.

While we don’t have the outright discrimination that we did in the Mad Men era, we still have enormous hurdles to climb in terms of numbers alone, not to mention having those underrepresented voices heard, loud and clear. It is, in fact, the subtler discrimination that presents the most pressing concerns moving forward – but we can connect to find solutions together.

What advice would you give to a 20-year-old woman on succeeding in the advertising industry?

I would have the same advice for the next generation of 20-year-olds — both men and women — interested in advertising: be eager to learn, open and hungry. This means gathering as much information as you can. Seek advice from people with perspective on this world, because our industry has its particular quirks and culture; it’s not something you can be prepared for in a class, or that general job advice your elders might give you.

Also, apply your openness to experience to your personal life. Explore new and exciting pursuits and passions outside the office, because it will make you better at your work. The great thing about this business is how relevant it is to how we live and what we love. We can increasingly connect what we love professionally and what we love personally as our work gets ever closer to the heart of pop culture.

Finally, our job is communication. So, always raise your hand and speak up if you have ideas or questions. You need a strong sense of self and your own personal compass to navigate your career. As long as creativity, speed, bravery, and pop culture excite you, this can be an ideal setting for your growth.

Would you want your daughter to pursue a career in advertising? If not, why not?

I believe that women should absolutely pursue careers in advertising — that’s the only way to get more equality within the advertising industry, and improve the portrayal of women in advertising. This is a great business for any daughter who loves exactly what I believe is the true beauty of our industry: the intersection of art and commerce.

As such, this business provides a great opportunity for balance, because I think it’s easy to love what we do. And when you love what you do — when your work is reflective of your personal passions — balance becomes easier. There’s less strenuous push and pull between sides of your life if you choose a pursuit that blurs that line. Suggesting for your daughter a career that combines the art and commerce of our daily lives, in the context of our changing culture, gives her that balance.

Women, particularly those who might want children, should know that one day you might have to improvise along the way, but it’s OK to raise your hand and communicate your needs. I hope women strongly consider the industry. They are essential. They are vital to our reinvention. They are changing things for the better.

What did you do to survive and thrive in advertising?

There are ebbs and flows in this industry and it hasn’t always been about diving head first into the stormy waters. I made sure not to be too set on one career path, to know that my worth didn’t diminish if I changed lanes for a few years. Personally, I needed to pivot off of global business when I had younger children, but I stayed in the game and am happy with what I’ve achieved. You just need to find the right balance in your career that reflects your personal needs. I raised my hand when I was on demanding, global business and said this is what I need to manage my life and career and that choice was not a forever choice.

Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective. I learned that you can have it all, but that “all” can’t always happen at the same time. This industry should allow you the ability to shift gears up and down seamlessly. And as a newly appointed CEO, I encourage the team at Grey to raise their hand and speak up to make those personal choices.