THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Nancy Hill, President and CEO, 4As

02/05/2015 11:36 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015

Nancy Hill, as President and Chief Executive Officer of the 4A's since 2008, has guided the association's transformation to provide leadership, advocacy and guidance to the advertising community on issues such as patent trolling, online privacy and interest-based advertising, compensation and talent. She has personally led the 4A's work on diversity including recruitment, talent development and media buying guidelines.

A veteran of agencies across the country, she began her career in advertising in 1983 at Doner/Baltimore, where she spent 10 years. This was followed by work at TBWA\Chiat\Day in both St. Louis and Los Angeles, before moving to San Francisco to lead Goldberg Moser O'Neill, which became Hill Holliday in 2001. After that, she joined BBDO where she was executive vice president and managing director for New York, overseeing several of the agency's largest accounts. Her most recent position prior to joining the 4A's was Chief Executive Officer of Lowe New York.

In April 2013, Nancy was recognized by AWNY (Advertising Women of New York) with itsChanging the Game Award. She was named one of Advertising Age's 100 Most Influential Women in Advertising History and was honored as a Woman to Watch by Ad Age. Both the Arthritis Foundation and the Girl Scouts named her as a Woman of Distinction. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Miami Ad School and led the launch of its San Francisco campus.

Currently she serves on the Board of Directors of The Partnership at drugfree.org, The Ad Council, The National Advertising Review Council, TORCH, AdColor, The Digital Advertising Alliance and The Marcus Graham Project. She is also a Trustee of the University of Mount Union in Ohio and is an active member of the Board of People Helping People, an organization that builds schools and sponsors children for further education in Otavalo, Ecuador, where she has had a home for several years.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A few things in my background contribute to who I am and how I operate. First, I grew up in a very small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Population: 13,000. Population of the ENTIRE county: 45,000. The town is surrounded by forest. It was an idyllic place to grow up. You lie, you cheat, you steal? Everyone knows. Because of that, your sense of morality and integrity is a given, not something you have to learn. I had a boss early on who told me I'd never be successful in advertising because I was too honest. I've spent my career proving him wrong.

Second, I was a competitive swimmer all the way through college. Getting up for a 5:15 practice in the dead of winter forces you to be disciplined and focused. You never lose a sense of your competition; how close they are in the lane beside you, whether they are ahead or behind and, whether the pace you are setting is going to last the race. Advertising relies on these skills, and it has served me well.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at 4A's?
I spent almost 30 years working in advertising agencies before I came to the 4A's. I've worked in Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and then, 12years ago, I came to New York. I've worked in independent agencies, holding company agencies, large agencies, small agencies, digital focused and, direct marketing. This experience gave me the perfect point of view to take on the 4A's as I can relate to our members in ways that someone with only one of those experiences could not.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at 4As?
The highlights have been helping to mold a more modern version of a trade association. Early on, I told the staff that we needed to think of ourselves more as a community organizer. I believe what we do best is to get the right people in the right room at the right time to talk through any issue we face. Today, we are more proactive and less reactive than ever before. Another part of that modernization was to get the organization to be much more digitally focused in the way we conduct business. We are very assuredly moving to digital-content platforms that will transform the way we interact with the industry.

Probably the biggest challenge that continues to plague us (and the industry) is talent. This industry relies on talent to deliver business-changing ideas for clients, and we are becoming less and less attractive as an option for young, talented creatively driven people. They have many more options for channeling their entrepreneurial spirit today than ever before. Add to that, the continuing drop in the population at the college and entry-level age group, and this challenge continues to build.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in the advertising industry?
Go for it. This is a terrific industry for women. Women are great multi-taskers and problem solvers, two things that are essential in this industry. There is no limit to how successful you can be if you keep your skills sharp.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
There really is no such thing. When I'm at work, I'm all in. When I'm at home, I'm all in. I try to keep things compartmentalized and be in the moment. You will rarely see me on my cell phone in a meeting and even more rarely when I'm having dinner with my husband.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Probably the single biggest issue is that notion of work/life balance that just doesn't exist. (Especially, if you're a mother.) I think we've created a very female friendly environment at the 4A's. We have a workfrom-home policy, we give family leave, we reimburse for childcare if you have to travel, and we strongly encourage people to take their personal time off and unplug. I recognize that all of these options are not easy for agencies, particularly because of the agency- client relationship. A service mentality is required. However, if we don't find ways to solve for this, we will continue to lose the best talent to those companies who have figured it out.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When I moved to New York in 2002, I knew virtually no one in the agency business here. I had spent almost 20 years in the industry and yet, felt like a true outsider. Two women took me under their respective wings and made sure that I met the people I needed to know and that I was getting the support I needed. I don't think I would have gotten this job six years later if that hadn't happened.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I'm not going to pick someone from an agency because there are just too many to choose from, and I don't want to forget one of our members,

That said, I truly admire the courage of Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn and former CEO of BBH New York. She is on a mission to change the fundamental way that women are viewed in our culture. She takes on the issue of female depictions in media--from advertising to film and television to porn. She's not afraid to call out bad behavior, and she's not afraid to applaud when someone gets it right. She does all of this because she cares and her passion is infectious.

What do you want 4As to accomplish in the next year?
Someone asked me a while ago when I thought the transformation of the organization would be finished. The fact is that transformation will never be finished. One of the greatest appeals of advertising is that it is constantly changing. We need to continue to evolve with the industry and stay ahead of the issues and business decisions that our members are making every single day. Our mission is to be their best business partner. To do that, we have to be ready for whatever they might need help accomplishing.