It's a man's world at the top of the advertising ladder

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2014 - 10:12 AM

The ‘Mad Men’ era is gone, but women who are creative directors remain few.


Dawn Yemma is a rarity in the advertising world. She is a woman creative director — at BBDO Proximity in Minneapolis — in a male-dominated field.

Photo: Bruce Bisping , Star Tribune

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Paula Biondich thrives in her advertising job for the Minneapolis-based agency Mono. Her peers consider her one of the hardest-working creative directors in the business. Her present and past clients include Target and MSNBC.

But Biondich is an anomaly in the ad world: She’s a woman in a creative leadership position that’s still dominated by men.

The issue has received national attention in recent years, particularly in light of the fact that women control much of the consumer spending in the United States.

There’s even an annual meeting called the 3% Conference that aims to address the disparity between men and women leading the creative work of their respective agencies. One of the group’s tenets: “Female consumers deserve to be marketed to from a place of understanding.”

“Things are definitely changing for the better, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Kat Gordon, leader of the 3% Conference (website: The 3 percent number refers to the percentage of women holding creative leadership positions. It comes from a 2008 academic paper that highlighted the gender imbalance. The 3 percent figure is likely outdated today, but it remains a rallying cry for women in the advertising industry

Women have made strides in creative roles in the Twin Cities advertising market but still fall behind their male counterparts in leadership positions. For example:

• At Colle+McVoy, 30 percent of its creative department are women with 16 percent of those in leadership roles.

• At Periscope, women outnumber men in the 78-member creative department, although the two executive creative directors are men.

• At Olson, five of 14 creative directors are women.

• And at Carmichael Lynch, which is a cosponsor of this fall’s 3% Conference, 25 percent of its total creative department is female while 43 percent of its product managers are women.

“Diversity and inclusion is a major focus for Carmichael Lynch,” said Ed Huerta-Margotta, the agency’s director of talent acquisition, in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “Recent double-digit growth has created an opportunity to recruit great new people, including women, in key leadership roles.”

Indeed, Carmichael Lynch and several other Minneapolis agencies hosted a “portfolio night” last week that allowed students to share their work with professional creative directors and compete for attention on an international stage. But even in that event, just two of the 13 creative directors listed as participants were women.

Biondich, 35, began her advertising career in 2004 as a copywriter and moved into a leadership role at Mono two years ago.

As the agency’s creative co-chairwoman, she’s responsible for overseeing the work that basically takes an ad from the agency’s story board to client approval and production before ending up in the consumer’s living room.

Biondich considers her role in the process as a coach, rather than an autocrat. But she also acknowledges that some of her female traits come into play in the team environment, like nurturing, patience and empowerment.

“I’m not a feminist. Most of the people I look up to are men,” Biondich said in an interview. “But women have an easier time knowing what inspires people the most and what demotivates people.”

Earlier this year, BBDO Proximity in Minneapolis promoted Dawn Yemma to creative director with responsibility for some Hormel brands, including Skippy peanut butter, and residential real estate giant Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

Yemma said many advertisers don’t understand their women audience and tend to enforce stereotypes in their advertisements.

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  • As Mono’s creative co-chairwoman, Paula Biondich oversees an ad from its beginning stages to the end, the consumer’s living room.

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