Today’s Women In Media exposé gives the proverbial blowtorch to none other than founder and director of women’s communications business Venus Comms’ Bec Brideson. Here, Brideson talks her industry heroines, why she loves the ads more than the shows, and her Jive talkin’ ability…
What or who inspired you to go into the industry?
The 70s TV show Bewitched. Remember Samantha? I loved her character. I loved that Darren would be in the middle of a meeting and then Derwood would mess something up and she’d jump in and save it with this fantastic, creative solution. I was like, ‘I want to do that. I want to be in advertising and solve those situations’. Apart from Bewitched, Mum always used to say, ‘you’d watch the ads more than you watch the shows’. It made it difficult for the family to watch television because I’d be glued to the TV ads and then the show would come on and I’d try and interrupt everyone to sing the jingle, or talk about the ad.
You spoke at the Cannes Lions on Tuesday. How did that come about?
I was up on on the Independent Agency Day, Day Two, talking about the disconnect the industry currently has with female consumers, who are the world’s biggest emerging economy. Most agencies use the same set of tools for males and females – no one gets the massive impact of gender differences. My forum was written especially for Cannes but I’ve also spoken in the UK about marketing to women. It’s probably the first time Cannes has taken the subject more seriously. Finally the industry is waking up to innovation and getting wise to smarter ways to do business with women. I’m tired of the industry saying women are a niche or Venus is a chick-thing. The industry is clever, but when it comes to women, the industry is mis-educated.
Why did you start your own agency?
It’s a big question, that one, isn’t it? How long have we got? I always wanted to be in advertising and I was always a minority or the token chick and, I saw the revolution of women coming, and thought that either the industry would change to adapt to understanding women, or I would change it. That’s why I started Venus. When I saw the revolution of women coming, I knew how important the female was in all purchases, but it wasn’t a subject that got talked about very often within agencies. I knew the agency model needed an overhaul to get “female religion” and I knew I had to start my own to create it.
If you weren’t in this particular job, having Venus, what do you think you would be doing?
I’d still be in advertising. I’d probably be with a global group running an agency somewhere. I haven’t ever thought I’d do anything but advertising. Before I went out on my own, I always saw myself as a stayer, and a long term journeyman at a DDB or one of those international groups. I’ll be in advertising forever. I always knew I’d run an agency, I guess I didn’t necessarily know it would be my own!
What drives you?
I love creating ideas to solve business problems. Having vision and working with bright people and enjoying what I do. You know that old saying? If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I love working with passionate staff and teams. I love pulling a team together and inspiring them with a vision and I love being able to innovate and the autonomy that comes from changing the way general agencies have approached the sort of traditional thinking around the consumer. And my family, they drive me because we are also a mini-business unit and I want to be the best I can for them.
How do you get others on-board with your vision?
I have a really collaborative, open style of communication where everyone has an opportunity to share their thinking upfront. Then I rally the team and declare, ‘okay, here is the vision on the hill, let’s all head up that hill together’.
What sort of qualities do you seek in people you want to collaborate with?
I hate using the word passion and probably everyone does, but you either love what you do and are committed or you’re not. I guess I’ve always been really committed to doing the hours and putting in what you have to, and I seek those qualities in other people as well. I also look for authenticity, intelligence, being smart and driven.
To date, what would you say has been your most defining career moment?
Starting my own agency. Having the vision and the courage and commitment to do it. I could see that there was another way to think about the way we approach marketing to women, and I had tried to do it in other agencies. But they were not ready for innovation back then. Then I thought, ‘I need to put my money where my mouth is and prove that what I’m saying works’.
What’s pearls of wisdom would you give to your 20-year-old self?
I was pretty nerdy when I was in university. I spent my holidays going into advertising agencies and doing work experience. I was just so excited about the industry and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a head start and start learning and networking, to help me get a job when I get out of uni’. I think I forgot to have a life – I doubt I even looked at the boys! If I could give my 20 year old advice… I should have travelled a little, lived a little more.
How do you manage to combine work and motherhood?
I don’t think there’s any perfect time to have children. So, it’s really about planning your time. They become the most important thing in your life, and you make sure you re-prioritise your hours spent with your family. A lot of that involves delegating the care when you can’t be there to do it and delegating the tasks that you don’t necessarily have capacity to do. There is a bit of that plain, hard, old sacrifice of missing out on some of the things that you don’t want to miss out on, but you can’t be in two places at once. Every working mum has that guilt. Just when you think you have got the right balance and you think it’s easy, you’ve finally nailed it, then the next day, your kids cry when you leave the school, and it’s heartbreaking.
Who is your industry hero?
Mary Wells Lawrence, who was the first female CEO to float an agency on the New York Stock Exchange. She started Wells Rich Greene in the US and has written a book called A Big Life In Advertising. After I read that, I declared her as my hero.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I know the Jive scene from Flying High verbatim. I tell everyone I can speak Jive and they don’t believe me, then I reel off that scene between the two guys and people are convinced, ‘yeah, she can speak Jive’.