In the late 90s Bec Brideson’s advertising career was flourishing. Her bright success was overshadowed by one thing, a lack of women at her level, being one of 3% of creative directors in Australia. After a handful of years working on large and iconic brands, including the launch of Virgin Airlines into Australia in 2000, Bec saw a gap in the advertising market and leapt.
After mortgaging her apartment on the new business, Bec had no clients and no income, but she had a big, bold dream: to change the way the advertising industry was operating.
“In 2004, I left my decorated and flourishing advertising career to set up Australia’s first agency specialising in M2W — marketing-to-women,” Bec shares, in a candid interview with Women in Focus. “Venus Comms became a groundbreaking and successful independent with unique methodology that has pioneered marketing to women understanding and strategy gaining incredible results for smart clients.”
Today, the business is a family affair after marrying an ‘ad guy’, Bec’s husband runs Venus Comms and they’re bringing up two beautiful girls (and the mortgaged unit is now a family home). She still has a big, bold, burning ambition to change the way the industry operates, but it’s slow to change. “I was frustrated 10 years ago, and feel the rate of change is too slow. I’m impatient because I care.”
When asked about her greatest achievements to date, Bec explained that it’s a combination of highlights. “Negotiating my babies, my businesses and my burning ambitions. Surviving a traumatic childhood event and never giving up.”
The next bold challenge
After 12 years driving the thriving Venus Comms business, Bec has taken on her next bold challenge. “I’ve launched a consultancy business, BecBrideson.com, to share decades of my knowledge directly with clients and agencies. My business is leveraging the power of women in the new economy, where women are worth $28 trillion globally.”
Working with businesses and brands to navigate these times of change, Bec helps to focus their attention on women’s needs and how to meet their expectations. “Women are powerful and make the majority of purchasing decisions. But the business world is still a marketplace built for men. The only way to change the tradition is to lead from the front with intuitive, clever and agile innovation and recreating the way brands and businesses think about women.”
Increasingly requested to speak around the globe on this in-demand topic, Bec was the first Australian woman to present at the Cannes Lions last year in France. “I have made the status quo my enemy and I am here to work with passionate change-makers who are tired with the way business operates with women.”
The changing roles of women
While Bec feels times will change, right now women are responsible for 9 in 10 purchases and are increasingly time-poor.
“It’s time for businesses to catch up with the changing roles of women. I see a world where women are considered in a much more intelligent and empowering way – because women now have economic influence. Women will demand change, and this change is going to usher in a better, smarter, more lucrative world, where business operates for the greater good of everyone and can influence change at all levels of society.”
Sheer volume makes women the perfect consumers. Most have observed their mothers running the home and making the decisions. “Physiologically and biologically, women are built to respond to the needs of others and care for them. Even when men are contributing, chances are we are guiding them to make certain brand choices.
“Some businesses still don’t acknowledge how powerful women are. Not only as a workforce, but as an economy that is worth twice that of India and China’s emerging economy put together. A global consumer economy that can make or break brands.”
Influencing change through innovation
The rise of social media is democratising the business world. “Women can now be heard and demand better. Businesses can’t hide so easily. We are a global marketplace and bad news, misdemeaniours and unacceptable behaviours are getting harder to get away with. From environmental issues, to corporate responsibility and fair-play we can be heard and as a collective demand better.
“The advertising landscape is so fragmented now – 20 years ago there was one screen with three channels, two newspapers and a handful of women’s magazines. Now we have four screens and millions of choices for what we look at on them. Power is in the consumer’s hands. And, many are women.”
Changing the advertising and marketing culture
Sheer numbers show a lack of female representation in senior positions and at management level in advertising and marketing.”For a long time in these industries the boy’s club ruled and women had to go along with the pervasive and dominating culture. It’s been ‘pale, male and stale’. We live in a ‘Bloke-World’. Men dominate in the press, the political arena, the ASX companies, the boardrooms, the media exposure, the news. Sport dominates as a topic of conversation and a whole decade went by when men drove cars in TV ads and women were the passengers.
“Even when there are senior female marketers, they invariably report to men, a largely male board or a leadership team that can bring their bias into the boardroom with their own life experience lens, rather than seeing the reality for the modern woman. Sadly, when there are women in the roles, in order to survive their amazing career trajectory and position of seniority they often have to ‘think and act’ like men in order to stay in their seat.”
Bec sees diversity as the path to change. “We need to change the ratio until we have course-corrected. Ernst and Young launched a study this year, which shows that based on the current rate of change we are making on gender discrimination it will take 117 years for women to be equal. From discrimination, to domestic violence, to women in the boardrooms – we have all inherited this situation and no one is to blame. But everyone can be part of the change that welcomes in equality and diversity.
“If we keep putting out positive messages: from our advertising communications to our internal cultures and product development – we show a world that acknowledges that women are as important as men and we are all in this journey together – different but equal.”
Bec has some simple advice for women looking for advice for thriving:
- Find a great sponsor and a company that embraces diverse thinking about women.
- Disruption is all around us – create the world you want to operate in and the change you want to see.
- If you can’t beat the system – start your own business.
Bec believes that her business will be seen as the new normal. “There will be a position on Organisational Charts called Chief Female Officers and these positions won’t be token or reporting through to people who are complacent.”
As her legacy Bec hopes to leave a trail of successful change behind her that has turned businesses and commerce the right way up for the female markets. “I want to have a global team of smart people working with me that know how to walk into any corporate business and turn energised and clever teams of people into those creating change in diversity and delivery of products and solutions that serve humankind.”