Ad Agency Leadership 102: Empathize with Your Audience

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Ad Agency Leadership 102: Empathize with Your Audience

“We ran a hard campaign against each other. He said things that hurt my feelings, I said things that hurt his feelings. It was tough! But he won and I lost.

And I said, ‘I want to do everything I can to get you elected,’ and I did. I did everything I could think of to do. And then he asked me to be Secretary of State, and I said yes for the same reason. And you know what that reason is?

We both love our country!

And we in this country not only have to make our democracy work, we’ve got to make it work for the rest of the world, who will look at us and say, ‘This is what a democracy is.’”

(Huge Applause)

Hillary spent the next hour moving through the crowd, listening intently to voters’ questions and answering them with candor.

She was connecting!

If you are willing to take leadership lessons from Hillary Clinton, then this small paragraph can teach you everything you need to know about being a great leader!

Lesson #1 – Listen to your people

Lesson #2 – Embrace diversity

Lesson #3 – Make a connection

Lesson #4 – Communicate to Inspire

Lesson #5- Keep up with the Trends

How about applying these leadership principles / lessons to Ad Agency Management?

Meet Andrea Van Dam, CEO of Women’s Marketing Inc. (WMI), a woman who’s changing the advertising world with her unique leadership style.

Andrea Van Dam
CEO, Women’s Marketing

Andrea spent nearly two decades growing Women’s Marketing Inc. into an agency that has led brands like StriVectin, Paige Denim and Moroccanoil to tremendous success. In 2014, Van Dam was named CEO after previous posts as President /CRO and chief advertising officer.

Andrea has since evolved Women’s Marketing into a fully integrated agency, expanding beyond just beauty and fashion. Women’s Marketing now services all categories that matter to women, including food, home, health and wellness, with a strong focus on digital! While still maintaining the company’s role as the second largest buyer of print in the U.S.

She has a customer-first vision and deep ties to many of the most impactful media brands, which has created lasting and productive client relationships.

Andrea has an amazing ability to continuously learn new things and adapt to new situations. Which helps immensely while navigating complex change. This calls for being curious, open to seeing different views and perspectives and widening the lens through which you see the world.

She is adept at leveraging her broad connections, listening to new ideas and then networking that idea to improve upon it and to gain broader support.

Beyond Women’s Marketing, Andrea serves as a mentor for the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator and as an advisor and previous board member of the Women’s Business Development Council. She is also an active member of the National Charity League, a charitable organization that encourages mothers and daughters to volunteer together, something she is committed to doing with her own young girls.

Let’s understand her leadership style.

Lesson #1 – Listen to your people: Pay close attention to what they really want

Great Leaders are the ones who do more than just talk; they stop and listen to everyday people. Andrea listens and acts where most candidates simply hear. She’s that kind of person that learns and reacts out of full-fledged empathy.

At Women’s Marketing, Andrea is leading the ‘Persona Project’, a comprehensive survey of mothers based in the United States, 79% of whom have children living in their home. The data from this survey is being used to develop consumer identities for women. Identity based on their needs, pain points, their families, their friends, their interests and hobbies, and several other factors. Thus, looking at the experience of womanhood as a whole and not just age, family income and ethnicity as it had been done before.

“It is important to understand, listen, have compassion, get inside of her life, understand her value system and then put your brand out there in such a way that makes sense with her value system.” she says.

All of this has enabled her to dive into the thoughts and lives of women across the country.

Lesson #2 – Embrace Diversity: Be inclusive of the needs of diverse people

In an industry where women comprise only 3% of the top Ad Agency leadership positions, Andrea is setting an example with her agency. Women’s Marketing is one of those rare agencies where over 50% of the top management is female. With this move, Andrea hopes to add fresh perspectives to the company’s marketing strategy.

“Women are driving this economy by bringing in more than half the income in 55% of U.S. households and dominating the social networks, so it only makes sense to have more of them at the top level.”, she says.

As a keen observer of the market, Andrea often says that more than anything else women are looking to be empowered. And this applies equally well to all the different communities across the country. The hispanic community, for example, is often overlooked in mainstream marketing and Andrea is doing her best to change this.

With Andrea at the helm, Women’s Marketing is already challenging the norms by exploring more innovative and ethical ways to market to women.

Lesson #3 – Make a connection: Build Long lasting ties

Successful leaders know that they cannot succeed alone. They need a solid network of trustworthy alliances. By establishing relationships with people from a variety of domains, you can expand your existing network dramatically; one person in one network can connect you with others, and so on.

Andrea learnt the importance of fostering strong relations with other organizations early on in her career. She has been instrumental in transforming boutique brands into household names. Skechers, for example, came to Women’s Marketing as a small brand with regional success and is now a global leader in lifestyle footwear with nearly $2 billion in sales.

Andrea successfully handled the premium client service and helped transform boutique brands into household names. She made sure that brands that come to Women’s Marketing stayed with them. Over the years, Andrea has built lasting ties with numerous brands such as Paige Denim, Urban Decay, Philosophy and many more.

Lesson #4 – Communicate to Inspire

To inspire people and achieve key results, resilient leaders need exceptional communication skills. In addition to being clear, concise and correct, they need to deliver messages that motivate people to deal with complex and disruptive change, particularly during stressful times. And to do this, they need to connect with people, and inspire them to feel engaged around a powerful vision or key goals–in spite of unforeseen obstacles and daunting challenges.

From the day Andrea took over as the CEO of WMI, she has been doing something very similar. She has been very vocal about the fact that beauty brands need to re-think their bizarre standards of unattainable perfection. The marketing campaigns, she says, needs to tune in to women’s needs and the new age millennials.

And as the CEO, Andrea Van Dam has made sure to pay attention to the evolving needs of women. Women’s Marketing at first catered only to beauty and Fashion, Andrea has been responsible to integrate other categories such as food, health and wellness that matter to women.

Women’s marketing is in fact making quite a few progressive headways. All of this needs a lot of convincing and this change at Women’s Marketing Inc. was possible because of Andrea.

Lesson #5 – Keep up with the trends

Andrea knew her audience really well. She was always aware of the trends and market conditions. This ensured that her agency never missed on evolving opportunities.

“Women are really wary of what they put on their skin now. Most are refraining from the use of chemicals, they are increasingly checking labels and the ingredient list. Sulphates and parabens are a big no no. Natural and clean products are making a comeback. This is the generation that cares about the environment and the animals. If a product description states that it is cruelty free, i.e, not been tested on animals, more women are likely to buy it”, she says.

Andrea joined hands with such brands to achieve tremendous success!

Some of our greatest leadership lessons and most significant personal breakthroughs come when we take risks and leave our comfort zones. Andrea started as an ‘Assistant Account Executive’ and worked her way to becoming the CEO of WMI. She didn’t always get it right the first time–or every time. But fortunately, our professional growth depends not only on our successes but also whether we are able to learn from our failures. It’s not the outcome of an experience that has the most significant impact on us. It’s the journey and the lessons we learn along the way.

Good luck! 🙂






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