Women in Business Q&A: Andrea Ring, Chief Strategy Officer, Big Spaceship

05/20/2016 03:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Andrea Ring

Prior to joining Big Spaceship, Andrea Ring was the SVP of Planning/Experience Planning at R/GA. Over the course of her nine and a half year tenure, she built up a team of 40 planners and helped brands such as Nike, Google, and Samsung figure out how to rethink their businesses and develop meaningful relationships with the right consumers. Before joining R/GA. she worked as a brand planner with J. Walter Thompson, Bigchalk.com, and Digital Pulp Advertising. Over the course of her career, Andrea has been awarded numerous strategy and creative awards, and has spoken passionately about the future opportunities for brands in the connected age.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I'm the youngest of four. By the time I came around, my parents were tired of taking photos (there are literally no photos of me as a child) and they had very little fight left in them. As a result, I had to fend for myself, and learn to be clever enough to get the attention I wanted.

My three older siblings went straight into medicine; but I went into waitressing, writing, public policy, yoga-mat making, digital strategy, and branding. I always strove to punch above my weight. I wanted to try everything; but I also wanted to be really good at what I did.

That's why I love resumes that read like interesting stories. I am attracted to big, bright, minds and spirits; people who want to be really good at what they do, but want to try tons of things before they settle down. It's my job to both spark people's curiosity, and to help them develop their craft so they can be proud of their work and become a true leader themselves.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Big Spaceship?
I spent the last ten years developing and building the Planning and Strategy Department at R/GA. When I started, there were only two planners. When I left, I had developed a department of over 60 people that played pivotal roles on almost every piece of business.

I learned two impactful lessons from R/GA:

First, I learned about good work - what it looks and feels like - and how much hard work goes into making something that's really good. Developing excellent work takes leadership, and passion, and time... I try to encourage, push, and train the teams at Big Spaceship to make work they are proud of.

Second, I learned the painful lesson that even a tough "invincible" woman like myself has to deal with the realities of being a working mom in a male-dominated industry...the best I can do is lead by example and make sure that everyone is given a fair shot to do their best work.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Big Spaceship?
The biggest highlight has been working closely with scores of millennials who live and breath the internet. Sometimes, the younger-ones get a bad rap. Of course they have tons of things to learn and to grow into, but their curiosity, work ethic, and deep understanding of all things digital is inspiring to say the least.

As far as the challenges, I think that everyone, across every agency, will agree that our jobs are getting harder...and more interesting. Digital isn't just a place to create zany videos and pranks anymore; it's a proper place to build a brand. Big Spaceship has shifted from being a project shop to a modern agency that builds modern brands. There are some growing pains that come with that.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Be yourself. Talk like yourself. Think like yourself. Don't get caught up in what you think people want to hear. If you do this, you will learn how to trust your own instincts.

Find a mentor. Find someone who cares about you, male or female who can tell you the hard truth. Find someone who will tell you what you need to work on, and where and how you thrive. Find someone who can tell you how to negotiate, and how much money you should rightfully be earning.

Don't dress silly. You all know what I mean. Silly is anything that draws attention to you for any of the wrong reasons. I may sound old fashioned here, but I think it's important.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I think it's an important skill to figure out when you are in the right role, position, agency...and when it's time to push upwards or even out. Like the song goes, "You've got to know when to hold em...know when to walk away, know when to run." The bottom line, is there are some times when you are ready for the next level, but there are times when it is important to stay where you are, to dig in, and learn as much as you possibly can. We have to balance ambition with the appropriate level of craft-building and patience.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Man, my two-year-old is cute. I make sure I am home by 6:45, and I find a way to run almost every day. Living and working in Brooklyn makes this a lot easier. I can actually work right up until 6:35 and still get home in time.

The only thing that makes being away from little Desmond ok, is actually liking my job. And, it doesn't hurt that I have a TON of people in my life who help me get through.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The issues are quite nuanced. I have several colleagues who all agree that we never felt mistreated in the workplace until we hit a level of seniority at around forty, and then SLAM we felt the glass ceiling for the first time. It was a nasty surprise.

So, that's the biggest issue: most women don't really feel or recognize there is an issue until it's pretty late in their careers. Women should be trained to negotiate BEFORE they settle for lower pay for ten straight years. Women should be taught the language of business earlier than later so they can work it into their own style and personality.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I used to think I could figure everything out on my own. The shift happened at R/GA when I saw how much better my work became through collaboration; and that there is always someone else to learn from. The people that helped me the most, all had the great fortune of working with executive coaches who taught them a lot about themselves at work. I always used to poo poo such coaching until I finally experienced it myself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders I admire have two main qualities: they are extremely good at their craft, and they are still human, funny, kind, and down to earth.

Chloe Gottlieb, the SVP Creative Director of R/GA is the absolute best. She is strong, and wacky, and fair, and brilliant. She can turn up the energy in every room, and make people feel empowered and inspired even after an insanely tough work review.

Connie Britton, the amazing actress and philanthropist is also one of my favorites. She is a remarkably gifted actress, but she is also open-minded, clear-headed and funny.

What do you want Big Spaceship to accomplish in the next year?
We are going to do things that are meaningful for clients and for the world. I am hell-bent on doing something big to combat climate change. Just you wait.