See It & Be It: Sandi Harari of BARKER

Sandi Harari, EVP/Creative Director, BARKER

A Q&A with BARKER’S creative leader Sandi Harari on how women and young people can succeed in the ad industry today.

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

It’s really quite simple: Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand out and have an opinion. In other words, find your authentic style. This will serve you throughout your career. At the beginning, it will help you stand out and appear confident, and at its height, it can make you connect better with colleagues and clients and allow you to lead with authority in your own way. It will give your work and working style an authentic, unique voice.

For instance, my thing has been to always say what I’m thinking, even when it may be uncomfortable. I’m overly transparent and always have been. I don’t sugar coat things, and I can be direct about my feelings and opinion. Now that doesn’t have to be your thing, but what’s interesting is that by further owning who I am and honing in on the positive qualities, I’ve been able to use them to my advantage. I also talk with my hands a lot. I used to try and subdue that and other parts of me but realized I was losing my character, so I stopped trying to be something I’m not and went with ‘the passionate Brooklynite who doesn’t hold back.’ I spend my time in meetings focused on how I really feel about the conversation, not overly curating how I am standing or talking or appearing. Clients have connected with me, asked for me to specifically be working on their business – and have cited my obvious passion as a reason. Remember: colleagues and clients want to connect with you – that will be difficult if you aren’t your truest self.

When mentoring or leading, I am 100% straightforward, I am unafraid to show my own vulnerability and often share personal anecdotes. While none of this is contrived, it inadvertently allows my team to feel comfortable being who they are and letting down their guard so they can be honest with themselves and grow.

Have you ever personally experienced discrimination?

I thankfully have not had to face much typical discrimination, but I can tell you about a time that may appear flimsy on the surface but provided me with deep takeaways:

I’ve always looked younger than I am – a trait clearly passed on from my mother and my grandmother, both of whom always appeared 10 to 15 years younger than they really were. This is something I hated when I was younger but now, at a ripe age of 45 (gulp!), I’m very thankful for. When I was in my early 30s, I could’ve clearly passed for 21. Sure, sounds fabulous, but when you’re 32 years old and have 10 year’s experience and you’re in a meeting with a potential client who thinks you’re 20, it can feel limiting. Their inclination was to presume I must not have any experience, that I must be a junior or an intern. At first I would find a way to defensively sneak in how old I was or how many years of experience I had. But in time, on a deeper level, I realized I needed to fight against the grain of how someone else was viewing me. I had to remember who I was, and I had to speak from a place of knowing authority. It was more about poise and presence than anything else. More than anything, it taught me to block out what someone’s perceptions or misperceptions of me were, to not allow it to make me forget who I truly was. In time, I came to relish that look of surprise when I opened my mouth and out came a substantive sentence that clearly demonstrated my years in the business.

Who was your first mentor and what did that person mean for your career

I never had one mentor per-se, but I had several important people whose advice changed the trajectory of my career. I was relentless in seeking out advice from leaders of industries I wanted to work in, and I was great at keeping in touch for years on end with colleagues and superiors. In time, it’s been like having a diverse board of directors I could turn to when I had a question, dilemma, or even success.

From my professor in college who noticed my talent before I did and found me a job in advertising while still in school, to my mentors at the Brooklyn Museum who taught me the value of doing work by hand (yep, I learned to spec type and do paste up the old-fashioned way!), to my first Creative Director, Darlene, who embodied what it meant to be a boss lady – how to kick ass and do it all with grace – to my next CD, Rob, who taught me how to hone in on a strong point of view and find my creative opinion, every bit of advice, small or large, was seminal in my journey and memorable to this day.

What other advice do you provide to young people at your agency?

When interns leave here at BARKER, I always remind them to keep in touch, to email every few months, and to not be afraid to call me three years from now even if we haven’t spoken.