As an Executive Creative Director at BBH, Laura Fegley has helped build a uniquely gender-balanced creative department. Laura oversees the Global Vaseline business and various brands under the Newell-Rubbermaid account, including Graco and Calphalon, as well as The Guardian in North America. Before coming to BBH, she worked in Creative Director roles at JWT and Cliff Freeman and Partners.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised by a young, single mom who put herself through college, while working full-time. I'm not sure if I'm the greatest "leader," but I learned the principle of setting a strong example from the best. She showed me that you can power through anything, no matter how daunting it may be.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at BBH?
I've done periods of freelance between staff jobs, and it's allowed me to get a peek into a wide range of agencies and make lots of mental notes about what's working and what doesn't. Hopefully I've been able to bring a "best of" approach with me to BBH.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at BBH?
Although women are represented fairly well in the industry overall, creative departments still skew very male. This year at BBH we hit a landmark point where our creative department became 50% women. We were officially not special any more - which is wildly special.
My biggest challenge has been finding the balance between managing and doing. We spend so many years "doing" that once you're a manager and projects hit a tough point, it's hard not to step in and do it yourself. I'm trying to get better at showing others how to power through challenges and find the solutions themselves.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Be confident. At least, be confident that one day you'll be confident. When you're first starting out in any job, a lot of what you do will be wrong. And as a creative, a big part of your life (for your entire career) will be having people shoot down your ideas. This makes it hard to imagine that you will ever be ace at what you do. Maybe we lose a lot of women early in their careers because of that.
I think men tend to be better at convincing themselves that they're awesome. Whereas women tend to be brutally realistic about our shortcomings. I don't think we need to be more like men, but maybe we need to get better at 'faking it until we make it'.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Only work with people and for people you like and respect. Only work with and for people who like and respect you.
Clients can be tough. Ego strokes don't come along frequently enough. But it's incredible the amount of extra emotional mileage you'll give to a job if you feel invested in the people you're surrounded by. And if you feel like they have your back as well.
Money, title or prestige can feel great, but not as great as looking forward to going into the office everyday.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm not sure that anyone in advertising has figured that one out. There's always time-consuming new business pitches, and clients expect responsiveness. I run a global piece of business, so add to that a lot of off-hours calls with Asia. Advertising people also often go on productions that take us away from home for extended periods.
Again, this is why working with people you like and respect is so important. If you're waiting until you're home to be surrounded by happy, you're going to be resentful of anything that cuts into that. I prefer to shoot for a fluid flow between doing things I love, just in different locations.
Oh, and I'm trying not to answer emails after 11pm. Admittedly, it's baby steps.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Children. When to have them (if you want them), and how to have them when you want, without feeling like you're blowing up your career.
Your 30's are such a make or break moment in a lot of industries. That's also a great stage of life to have kids. It's super daunting to think of stepping away from the game or even slowing it down a bit for a little while.
It's only in the last couple years that I've had enough control over my schedule to even envision how I could make it work. My 30-year-old self couldn't even imagine doing well in advertising and having a baby.
And that's the problem. Most of the women who openly talk about making it work are very senior. There still aren't enough good examples of women at younger levels who are loud and proud about being a mom while being great at what they do.
I knew a female creative who didn't tell anyone that she had a baby when she started a new job over fear of how people would perceive her abilities at work. That's kind of bonkers.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I went most of my career without a mentor. I think unfortunately that's a common story for a lot of people.
Being a mentor isn't convenient - it takes time commitment in an already busy life. To be a mentor, you really have to want to help another person have it be just a little bit easier than you did.
It wasn't until relatively late in my game that I was fortunate enough to come and work at BBH at the same time that Emma Cookson was our Chairman. Emma's that rare combination of super smart and totally approachable, so just in her presence, she was inspiring. And somehow in the midst of the craziness of running an agency, she made time for me. Helping me identify things that might be holding me back and how to navigate my way through problems she might have faced just a little quicker.
But honestly the most powerful part of having her mentor me was simply that I had been "seen" and deemed to have enough potential to be worth the time investment. That impact made me realize the weight that my own attention might in turn, have on other women.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I'm also in awe of women who have not only started businesses but started or shaped brand new categories - like Anne Wojcicki of 23 and Me, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, and Sara Blakely of Spanx. Being brave enough to pioneer a new space is leading without a net.
What do you want BBH to accomplish in the next year?
In advertising, our brands become our adopted babies. To enjoy this job and really be good at it, you have to be able to fall in love with your brands. I've been fortunate to work on brands that have made this easy. So I want us to have creative ideas that really make a difference in our brand's business - help them get noticed and engaged with in new ways. I want to make our brands famous for all the right reasons. I guess that makes me a marketing "stage mom."
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