As the Executive Creative Director of Santa Monica based, positive change ad agency, Tiny Rebellion, Jennifer Parke helps purpose-led companies disrupt their industry while positively changing the world. Current high-profile clients include TrueCar and Bolthouse Farms, among others.
Growing up with an art director father, Parke knew she wanted to follow in his footsteps at the young age of 8 years old. As soon as she was able, she landed a job at a graphic design studio in Chicago creating mechanicals and setting type by hand. By the time she was 21, she was an art director, and since then has never looked back, quickly moving into the role of creative director at various agencies across the country. In 2011 she joined Tiny Rebellion as Executive Creative Director.
With many awards to her credit, Jennifer is most honored to be part of the 3% of women Executive Creative Directors in the world of advertising.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I embrace change. I spent my 20s working at the big agencies. Then I took a fairly radical left turn to study with a stone-mason who was building mortar-less gravity walls in Mexico. I lived on a beach for several months and learned a completely new way to think about the laws of design from a man who had never set foot in an advertising agency. We talk much of the importance of taking risk as creative people, but we often forget to do it in our personal lives. The brightness of one's creative is informed by how fully you are living your life. It's easy to lose sight of that once the machine gets hold of you. As Creatives, it's our job to remind everyone to jump the box every once in a while.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Tiny Rebellion?
I've moved around a lot. New York, Chicago, LA, SF, Miami. There's always a discomfort about starting over. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being the new kid. That never stopped me. It energized me. But I observed a consistency wherever I went. Traditional agencies have structures that are stuck in an outmoded way of doing things. Editors work at editorial houses. Art directors work with writers as a team. Designers work at branding and Identity companies. Industrial designers work at product design companies.
At Tiny Rebellion I'm blowing up the old modality. The fact is that we are all more than one thing by trade. You may be an art director/photographer/filmmaker/editor/foodie. I'm working on non-traditional creative team pairing. I'm finding the output far exceeds the traditional way. I tend to favor smaller more nimble teams.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Tiny Rebellion?
When I came to Tiny Rebellion it was title agnostic. It was a noble idea to not get caught on hierarchy or feel limited by a title, but it created a fair bit of chaos. In a new business meeting nobody knew what anyone did. What I have done instead is created new team structures that maintain some of the traditional title nomenclature. The fact is that technology has enabled most talent coming up to be Renaissance men and women. A designer can be a great filmmaker. Or an editor can also be a great writer. One of my favorite creative team structures right now is Editor, Art Director, Writer. I just shot a campaign where that team went across the United States for 3 weeks shooting some amazing work. The editor isn't just going along for the ride. He's a core co-creator who adds so much great creative energy to the team while also increasing efficiency. Oh, he shoots too. So does the art director. My goal is to harness creative people that are awakened across a broader spectrum of the creative field than the old, traditional model. But titles still help organize who is doing what in the room and that at least helps people get their bearings, so I have reintroduced titles and shaken up creative groupings and that has been really fun and rewarding in the work that is coming through.
Why did you want a career in the advertising agency?
My Dad was an Art Director. He always went to work wearing a tee shirt and a smile. He taught me that work is a place of joy. That was a big one. I'm working on passing that on to my son. I also think advertising shapes culture in such profound ways. I love that I have found a home in advertising at an agency totally committed to using it for good.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in advertising?
You have power. The fact is that women control or influence 80% of consumer spending. Yet only 3% of creative directors are women. If you are a woman thinking about a career in advertising, jump in. We need you. If you're a mom thinking you can't raise kids and work, yes you can. If you want to. The vast majority of advertising is created to speak to the person controlling the household budget. That's you. And that makes you really valuable as a woman and/or mom in advertising.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't separate life and work. It's simply not possible in my position. Today we are always on. The 8-hour workday is dead. I learn the art of balance by the mentors I surround myself with. Scott Painter, CEO and founder of TrueCar is a father of 4, manages a company of 500 employees and just took his company public. Yet he seems to balance work and life with grace. My Dad showed the way when he was in advertising. He traveled to exotic places and made friends wherever he went. I grew up climbing around the best advertising agencies of Manhattan and Chicago very clear about what he did for a living. It was also very clear that he loved his job. There was no compartmentalization of work and life. He loved both in equal measure. My mother also worked while raising both my sister and me. It's important what emotion we bring home to our children. The simple fact is, Work is life and Life is work. It's our perspective that creates the perception of balance.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The workplace, industry, and the world, quite frankly, could use a little more feminine energy. The most challenging part of being a woman in the workplace is to make sure I don't lose the assets of my emotion, my passion, and my sensitivity to survive in a male dominated culture. A lot of us become more masculine to win in business. I guess I've always been a bit of a tom boy and I love men, so maybe I don't stop to think that I'm a woman as much I am focused on doing great work. I'm also fortunate that I work in an agency that believes in the power of feminine. Compassionate listening, empathy, courage, being non-reactive - its all the stuff we have to master as Moms. It's also the stuff of good leadership.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I started as a kid in the studio doing mechanicals. Then I became a Junior Art Director, then Art Director, Associate Creative Director, Creative Director, Group Creative Director, Senior Vice President Creative Director. Now I'm an Executive Creative Director. Yes, it took 20 years, but I wasn't in a rush. With each level, came training and learning--and a tremendous amount of fun. When I taught at the Art Center I saw many students who were so anxious to get to the top fast. I encouraged them to get into the mastery of where they are--to enjoy the process and not try to skip or rush over steps. It's hard for a young person to understand the importance of growing with grace. The gravity wall taught me that. Every stone has purpose, the ones at the bottom often more so than the ones at the top.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Gwynn Shotwell, President and COO of Space X
While Elon gets most of the press, Gwynn is a badass. She oversees $5billion in contracts, 3400 employees and has put 50 missions in motion. A major player in tech and space but from what I've read is pretty down to earth.
Jessica Livingston, Cofounder of Y Combinator
Y combinator provides seed money to start ups. They have helped some of my favorite startup get off the ground Airbnb, DropBox, Reddit to name a few. I respect anyone that helps entrepreneurs seek their dreams. Its hard enough getting a business off the ground, its especially nice to have people like Jessica back your idea.
Temple Grandin, author and autistic activist
This women has me in awe by her speeches around the world. She speaks about autism and the importance of nurturing all of the brains on our planet. That the world needs all kinds of minds to help our planet survive and grow.
What do you want Tiny Rebellion to accomplish in the next year?
At Tiny Rebellion we believe business is the most powerful force for positive change. We are a positive change advertising agency. I want more clients that believe in using advertising to help positively change the world. Clients like Tesla, Patagonia, Simple, Method, Google are on our hit list.