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Women of Wongdoody Chapter 3: “Sure, fewer egos … but it’s advertising.”

By sheer coincidence — if you believe in that type of thing — every Wongtern for summer 2017 is a woman. Five lovely ladies grace the halls of the LA office, and three of us do our thing in Seattle.

As hopeful #girlbosses-of-tomorrow, we decided to ask the grown-ass women in the agency: How did you get where you are today and what did it take to become such a boss?

A small sample of the many #girlbosses at WONGDOODY shared how they grew their interests into careers and their passions into mountains of gold — or, you know, however they define success.

Strategist Lori Hicks Brings Science to the Art of Advertising

Lori Hicks was a science-mad kid from Tennessee who saw a job in advertising that could blend research, planning, creative thinking and strategy. As a strategist, her job encompasses traditional account planning, digital strategy, product strategy and biz-development strategy.

She is responsible for identifying the angle, the arguing point, what she calls “the truth” behind the advertising that the creatives are then tasked with making. Lori’s input doesn’t end when she hands off the brief, either.

Key to her success is her talent for putting people at ease. This is a woman who once volunteered to recite every person’s first and last name in a crowded conference room when the entire group was challenged to do so. Her valiant attempt was more than anyone else was willing to give, and to her credit, there were interns, people she’d never even emailed and a couple freelancers present. She didn’t know us all by name, but she was the one who tried.

Lori’s people skills, professionalism, fearless nature and deep desire to uncover something true have all led her to become a #girlboss in life, and in advertising. Here’s Lori in her own words.

What were your first memories of advertising?

I’d probably say Coca-Cola advertising. I remember as a kid, I grew up in the South so Coca-Cola was huge, my uncle worked for Coke so it was always around. We drank a lot of it. I remember being aware of the commercials and really liking them, the bears and the Santa holiday packs — I’d get really excited about that.

When did you know you wanted to work in advertising?

It was either advertising or oceanography. (Laughs) Very different …

One is very much a science. Do you see this job in strategy as a science?

I would say it’s somewhere in the middle. There’s a little bit of science to it, but the art expresses the science. Basing the art in truth makes it more memorable and emotional and touching.

What was your initial exposure to planning and strategy?

I got turned onto planning in college. We had a course on it my senior year and we competed in the 4As advertising student competition. We had to put together a campaign and our strategy was what set us apart — we made up a whole new target and put together all these stats on why it would work. We won the division and got to go to nationals, which was fun.

That was when I thought, This might be what I want to do. But I knew there were no entry-level positions in strategy, so I decided to start as an account executive — at entry level — and go from there.

I wanted to see what I liked, and learn about the business by working in the business, before I spent a bunch of money going to a portfolio school.

Tell me about your first advertising job.

I worked at BBDO in LA. Most people from the University of Tennessee go north [after college] to New York. Everybody goes to New York so I was going to California. Everyone always called me a West-Coast kid anyway in Tennessee, which is kind of funny. I went out there and loved it.

I interviewed a few places and I went with BBDO because it was smaller, and I liked the people. I was an assistant account executive and I worked there a year-and-a-half and then I decided I wanted to go into planning so I went back to school. I went to Miami Ad School.

Why aren’t there entry level jobs for planners?

Maybe that’s changing, but I don’t think so. There are internships for planners, which is great, but where “junior planners” start, they want you to have a couple years of experience under your belt.

It’s kind of like creative in that way, where you can’t just walk out of college and get a job. They want you to go and build a book and have a little bit of experience, even if that experience is [ad] school.

What does a planner’s book or resume look like?

A lot of [hiring people] want to see writing samples of work you’ve done, strategic presentations or anything you’ve put a lot of love into. I had a book coming out of Miami Ad School, I don’t really have one now.

Your resume is pretty much the same as a standard resume. I think it’s expected to be a little bit more creative.

What makes working for WONGDOODY different?

When I was interviewing here, everyone kept telling me about Creative Democracy and the lack of egos, and I was like, “Oh that’s cool.” But at the same time, in my head, I was like, Yeah, right. Sure, fewer egos … but it’s advertising. And it’s Tracy Wong — a legend in advertising. So, I thought it was lip service — but everyone I met was great.

Then I started, and I was in pitches right away and I remember being blown away. This whole no-ego thing, the no-one-takes-credit thing was really true and totally stood out.

In pitch environments, you see either the best or worst in people. So, if egos existed you would see them then, especially when you have the whole agency pitching. It was really cool to see that it was true and a true team effort.

There may be some debating or bickering but that’s healthy. It’s when egos get involved in that stuff that it gets nasty or prevents you from debating. My cynical attitude of Ha-ha yeah right was proved wrong pretty quickly and still is being proved wrong.

If we do end up hiring someone with an ego, they kind of weed themselves out over time, because when you don’t feed the ego they go somewhere else.

What advice do you have for working at an agency?

I think you have to have a pretty thick skin in advertising. I have a theory that it helps if you played competitive sports. At least, it’s helped me in advertising.

When you play competitive sports, you learn how to not take things personally. You learn how to get beat down and then get back up again. You learn how to beat yourself down and get back up again. You learn how to constantly push yourself while having fun. I think that helped me in this business, because it can be pretty cutthroat and exhausting at times.

It’s a very critical business. We’re judged on what we do constantly — especially creatives. And I think as a planner you have to remember that creatives have the hardest jobs here, because every day they’re presenting work to people and people are tearing it apart — whether in a good way or bad way — to try to make it better.

Why is that important for planners to know?

[Being critiqued] can do a number on you as a person after a while, so planners have to know that when you’re critiquing work, do it in a way where you’re only trying to make the work better and you’re trying to help the creative.

I think a planner should be a tool in a creative’s arsenal — a big one! A big resource and a really important one. So, you have to base [feedback] in defending the brief, or defending the target, not just your opinion. We know what the truths are, we know what the research is, how can we make sure we use that to shape the work. That’s how I feel.

Have you ever felt attacked or discriminated against?

Regarding gender discrimination, I don’t feel like I’ve experienced anything too bad — at least that I’m aware of — but I have witnessed it, or heard about it happening to others, throughout my career.

I think, most of the time, it wasn’t intentional, but just how things were done. I have hope that that’s changing as we become more aware. At least I am more aware of spotting it and calling it out.

What else can you tell me about agency life?

There was an old maxim I was told when I started, “10 years in advertising is like 20 years in any other career.” Because you’re just doing so much more in such a short amount of time.

Advertising is such a demanding career, a very hungry career. Other careers are probably much more stable, more, Slow and steady wins the race. Whereas advertising is, Gah! Deadline! Working all night and working all weekend for this pitch!

And you have to learn that hitting [the pitch] out of the park doesn’t necessarily mean winning. That’s what you want it to be, but it’s such a subjective business and that’s where the science part gets a little … (Laughs) because it’s so subjective. At the end of the day, make sure you’re having fun doing [your job], that it brings you joy, and then you’ll succeed.