Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Ellen Wong, Executive Creative Director , RED Interactive Agency
In honor of International Women’s Day, AdForum is showcasing the achievements of women in advertising in the month of March through a series of interviews. We would like to thank Ellen Wong, Executive Creative Director at RED Interactive Agency, for taking the time to offer her thoughts and reflect on her career.
AdForum: How would you describe the current overall culture at your agency? How would you describe the culture among your female colleagues and what are the differences?
Ellen: The culture at RED is one of inclusiveness and collaboration and respect. I find that the culture particularly among females at RED is one of genuine support, where we all really root for each other both professionally and personally, no matter how close we may be. I think this might stem from the fact that there are fewer of us, and so we naturally band together to hold each other up.
AdForum: What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling” into Sr. Executive level positions? What are some of the challenges that still exist for women in reaching the upper echelon of management?
Ellen: It’s really inspiring to see more female-owned agencies nowadays. Female empowerment has become a pervasive theme in our culture and media, and i think that has really opened up the doors for women to start leading the charge in branding and campaign work. Also, you see females being much more vocal now about injustices they face in the workplace. The most recent controversy around Uber’s treatment of women is a perfect example of women speaking up for themselves.
But it’s clear that these injustices still very much exist, making it difficult for women to ladder up, which cyclically perpetuates the small number of females who choose to enter, and more importantly stick it out, in fields like tech, where this hurtful behavior tends to be more prominent.
AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?
Ellen: Creating a site for Oprah that she felt proud of, which helped her reach her business goals successfully and also helped people around the world live better lives, is one of my biggest accomplishments to date.
AdForum: How do you find the best work-life balance to help you stay productive and creative at work and to help you live a happy, sane life outside of the office?
Ellen: To be honest, I’m not sure I have found the perfect work-life balance. The reality is, I work my ass off because I care deeply about the quality of work I produce, and oftentimes that quality is only achieved if you put in the extra time. I also have felt that I need to work harder to prove myself as a woman in a more male-dominated field in order to command the same amount of respect that my male colleagues receive. So that also requires extra time put in. But I feel grateful that I have been recognized for my hard work and skills, so that makes the extra time and effort feel justified.
AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?
Ellen: My first job at a coffee shop on the UT Austin campus taught me the people skills that I have found to be equally if not more important than my creative or technical skills. If you can’t work with or communicate with people, you will have a really difficult time in any career.
AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?
Ellen: I don’t have a single traditional mentor that helped guide me in my career. But I attribute much of my success and growth to my long-standing creative partner, Mark Beechy, with whom I have worked for a decade and from whom I’ve learned a ton. Our partnership has allowed me to have a trusted source to go to for advice, to learn from each other’s mistakes and to have a constant bounce board to hit ideas against for immediate feedback. The accessibility and trust in this partnership has made it really easy for me to grow quickly and feel confident that i’m supported.
AdForum: How do you as a successful woman in your industry plan to inspire the next generation of women? In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?
Ellen: Don’t give up. No matter what less-than-favorable situations you may encounter because of your gender, just keep pushing through. Because there are too few of you and you are needed to reflect your unique perspective of the world. You’re stronger and more important than you think.