(As originally published in Little Black Book online, November 2013)
Since taking on the chairmanship of the Advertising Club of New York, Laurel Rossi has been on a mission to address what she sees are the biggest challenges facing the industry: lack of diversity and a talent drain spurred on by sexy tech brands. She tells LBB’s Laura Swinton about the power of fostering networks, the importance of giving back and meeting Carey Grant in the ‘70s.
LBB: What is it about the Havas Worldwide Strategy Farm that makes it so unique?
LR: Strategy Farm is unique because of our commitment to a mission that drives everything we do. We serve clients and devote ourselves to advancing human progress. While that may seem lofty, it is a lens through which we recruit and retain talent, target clients and motivate our teams.
It’s difficult to maintain an ideal in the agency business, but we are steadfast. While it’s common for companies to be founded on or adopt a mission, it is far less common for agencies.
LBB: What motivated you to open Strategy Farm, and how has it evolved since then?
LR: The most obvious thing about Strat Farm’s evolution is that we are now part of Havas, the most innovative global network in the industry. We wanted to start an agency that was full-service to clients from the inside out. An organically integrated shop, with technology at the core, could only be built from the ground-up.
LBB: Which projects have you been involved with recently that have particularly resonated with you?
LR: We just began working with a client who is in the burgeoning in-home care market called BrightStar Care. BrightStar will revolutionise the way we choose to age, which is more healthfully, with more dignity and with less stress and strain on family members because we will age in our own homes with proper care and assistance. If we start thinking about the way we age now, versus when 75 million people in the U.S. turn 65 in 2013, we will be a lot better off, healthcare costs will go down and we will have achieved the kind of human progress we espouse.
LBB: You are also the Chair of The ADVERTISING Club of New York. When did you take up the position and why did you decide to do it?
LR: The AD Club is the most collaborative and objective of all the clubs and associations in our industry. I don’t know of any other organisation where the marketing client-side community, the advertising industry and the media community have an opportunity to truly work together to solve industry problems and collaborate on projects that truly advance our game.
LBB: Have there been any key issues you have been keen to raise awareness about or industry changes that you want to institute during your time as Chairman? If so, what are they?
LR: There are two topics that I believe will help us live up to our potential in the industry over the next couple of years. The first is tackling the diversity in the marketing, media and advertising community overall. Until now, this topic has been relegated to HR departments. The AD Club is tackling the issue head-on by devoting a substantial amount of money to it – $10 million over the next three years, in addition to providing the tools that organisations need to address it. This is not simply an issue attached to ethnicity or colour; it is also about gender and age, as well as backgrounds and cultures. We are out to acculturate the marketing world because our industry should be an absolute reflection of the melting pot (now more often referred to as a “tossed salad”) we serve.
The second big topic is one of attracting and retaining the best talent. For 10 years leading up to 2008, we lost the best and the brightest to the finance community for bigger salaries and more “go-go” jobs. We are now in the throes of a technology revolution that includes the marketing community. We want and need to attract those fertile minds in our industry by raising awareness of the industry’s unique blend of what makes our human nature tick and technology. We are on a mission to create access to the most scintillating, technology-fueled industry for young talent through our programs, networking and joint venture opportunities for The AD Club’s membership.
LBB: What are the biggest challenges facing the advertising industry in New York right now?
LR: Staying competitive. Losing talent to the tech industry. Fighting the economic pressures of living in the greatest and one of the most expensive places on earth (New York). However, I’d say that particularly for advertising, marketing and technology, New York is still the most vibrant place on earth. It’s very apparent in our membership.
LBB: How did you find your way into advertising? Was it a deliberate choice or a career that happened by accident?
LR: I was introduced to advertising by accident. My first love was marketing. I had a great deal of exposure through my great aunt who was the Creative Director for Faberge in the 70s. Seeing Carey Grant at dinner when you’re a kid is pretty impressive.
LBB: What pieces of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?
LR: After family, my network of women executives is my core. It’s what stimulates me and keeps me on my toes everyday. I would say, gender aside, building and nourishing your “tribe” is one of the most rewarding things you can do to keep yourself motivated in business.
Give back! Volunteer, network, offer to help, mentor, join. Trade organisations, not-for-profits, events. Expect nothing. But I guarantee it will pay back in spades.
And finally, learn about finance. Know how a business runs – regardless of your role. Knowing how the business of advertising, marketing, media and tech work is your ticket to advancement.
LBB: You have been in various roles from account director to strategy throughout your career – what benefit do you think there is to wearing a broader variety of agency ‘hats’?
LR: Building empathy is central to doing a great job. Immersing yourself in different roles will lead to more collaboration in the end. Most come directly back to the role that motivates them the most. For me it’s strategic planning with a specialised focus on driving growth. I would not be saying that if I hadn’t had a number of roles over the years. That said, I’m a terrible copywriter.
LBB: Outside of your day-to-day work, I see that you also support community programs – how important is it for Adlanders to get out of the industry and into the community?
LR: We touched on this this earlier in terms of how to advance your worldview, perspective, ability to be empathetic, and career. Giving back is the right thing to do and you’ll reap great rewards. Volunteering in the community taught me how to work with different people with diverse skill sets, and how to quickly solve problems in a limited amount of time. When it’s not your day job, you have to be efficient in how you choose to contribute. Most people generally make it really count.