“See It & Be It”: Donnalyn Smith, President of North America, Momentum Worldwide

Donnalyn Smith, President North America, Momentum Worldwide
Donnalyn Smith, President North America, Momentum Worldwide

In our “See It & Be It” series, the 4A’s asks industry leaders—who are female or from traditionally underrepresented groups in the ad industry—to provide their personal stories, advice and observations on how to succeed in an industry that is overwhelmingly led by white men. Here is what Momentum’s Donnalyn Smith had to say.

In 2016, why do you think it’s still necessary to talk about opportunities for women in the industry, and how women are portrayed in advertising?

While much has been accomplished, we’re nowhere near done with this conversation, and the solutions that will follow. More talk will lead to more great things.

Yes, women have made great contributions in our industry, and there continues to be an abundance of opportunity to have a really great career in this business. At issue, however, is a specific challenge still facing many women: breaking through at the most senior levels, particularly within the creative department. And here, there hasn’t been nearly enough conversation.

Because of that silence, young female creative talent miss out on the senior leader/mentor relationships that are so important to shaping a person’s development. That void is really troubling, given that 80% of purchase decisions are made by women and creativity is the core of our business. What’s more, it’s widely recognized that diversity on creative teams leads to better thinking, better creative and, ultimately, better results.

As for how women are portrayed in advertising, there are a respectable number of brands that responsibly portray women in advertising today—and it’s their willingness to continue the conversation, as well, that will help us progress .

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

This answer connects to my earlier point about how silence on matters of diversity prevents and severs the connections younger talent can make with mentors. Among the many shared issues we all face is the lack of role models for people of diverse backgrounds to follow, and the means to connect with those role models. I think fundamentally, the conversation leads to the connection, and the connection leads to teaching, which in turn yields the real progress.

One thing I believe: While more of the right conversations is necessary, women, LGBTQ, people of color and people with disabilities are all proving that simply by doing the work, their creativity cannot be ignored any longer. The more we are able to get those voices into the creative process, the better it will be for creating lasting powerful connections to consumers, and the creative itself will only improve by having more, diverse voices in the room bringing in their experiences and backgrounds. Words are speaking more clearly than ever, but actions have always spoken louder.

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

  • Be courageous, confident and have an opinion.
  • Don’t apologize for getting hired or promoted because you are a woman — ever! Tons of really below average men get hired/promoted every day.
  • Being a woman, a mom, and a senior executive is hard work and you will, no doubt, work harder than your male counterparts. Balance is totally achievable but it is really dependent on your company’s culture. Know when to get out but appreciate when you’re in the right place.
  • Work for smart people – men or women – who want to surround themselves with really smart people… regardless of their gender.
  • Don’t play games you can’t win. If you can’t hit your driver 250 yards off the tee, don’t push yourself into an all-guy foursome.

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

Absolutely. In fact she has already started her career in advertising. She has seen first-hand what a great career this can be, and at least has had the benefit of a few words of wisdom from her mom.

What did you do to survive and thrive in advertising? 

I didn’t burn a lot of daylight worrying about getting ahead as a woman. Instead, I made sure I was making valuable contributions with my clients and within our company. I’ve spent the past 21 years working for a company that celebrates diversity in the workplace, and I’ve worked for and with a leadership team that acknowledges the contributions of leaders – especially the women.

I also learned from my fair share of mistakes. Like a lot of women, I got a lot done but didn’t self-promote or take credit for the results. I didn’t celebrate success in a public forum and instead kept my head down and simply delivered. Change took listening to some wise advice suggesting I do a better job of celebrating and acknowledging my role as a senior women in the company, because there were a good bit of women coming up behind me that were watching and waiting to celebrate with me. Again, it’s the connections that lead to progress.