Renee Mezzanotte, DMW Direct’s EVP, Client Services, was recognized by the Philly Ad Club as one of six Top Women In Advertising for 2017. Following is a summary of her remarks from the evening.
I became a bit concerned when I learned that I was going to be the fifth speaker tonight. With so many accomplished women talking before me – what topics might be left? What stories could I tell? And then I recalled that they say there are only seven basic plots for all the stories ever told. Yet with only those seven plot lines we have stories as varied as Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins, and The Hunger Games. So, I figured I could add my own spin even if the plot lines are similar to the inspiring women who came before me.
1. Overcoming the Monster
For me, Overcoming the Monster was overcoming the voice of self-doubt in my head. Many women know that monster. For instance, early in my career, I was reluctant to speak up at meetings. And then I would want to kick myself when another person said exactly what I was thinking. I can tell you it didn’t take long for me to find my voice. It also didn’t take me long to use my voice to speak up, but also to SAY YES to opportunities that presented themselves, even if they made me a little uncomfortable. I needed to rip the adhesions and take advantage of every opportunity given to me – and ask for every opportunity I wanted.
2. Rags to Riches
This is not about money (although I do have a good story about asking for a 50% raise). Rags to Riches is about starting out with no experience and growing your professional self. I began as a Drexel University marketing graduate with a brief experience as an intern. Quickly I found you can’t wait to be mentored. It’s great if you do connect with someone to guide you, but don’t wait – you have to find the drive within yourself.
Absorb all you can from everyone around you. I have learned from many women in my life (starting with my mom, who was my very own “Mary Richards” made famous by Mary Tyler Moore) … and I have learned from many men. You come to recognize talent, regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity. I realized it’s not just the leader in the room. It’s the person with the interesting viewpoint, the one connecting the dots, and the one who can bring a group together to rally around an idea. I watched. I listened. I took it all in and made it my own.
3. The Quest
I found my heart’s desire pretty quickly. I have been a direct marketer for over 30 years. I love it. Direct marketing has a reputation for being old-fashioned and unglamorous, but if done well, it’s right on the leading edge of technology. Big Data, micro-targeting, mobile first – it’s about reaching the right person with the right message at the right time. And ultimately it is about accountability and revenue – clients’ revenue. When I can tell a client that their 10-week campaign brought in 3,000 new policyholders, that’s thrilling.
The moral of the story is to find what challenges and energizes you so you can do the same for your clients with passion.
4 & 5. Comedy and Tragedy
Comedy and Tragedy just naturally seem to go together. Somehow aren’t these still occasionally the two sides of being a woman in the workplace? Behavior that can make you want to laugh and cry, sometimes both at once? I’ve been lucky that I have been unimpeded by my gender. But I realize that isn’t always the case. Katie Couric once said that she started in the news business when “harass” was two words, not one.
So, I admit there can be mixed messages. For a while I worked with a gentleman who was our client’s consultant and a pure marketing genius. On one hand, he showed complete respect for my marketing abilities. But on the other, he persisted in calling me “Darling.” None of the men on the team were “Darling,” just a few select women. Was that old school charm, an old habit, or belittling chauvinism? I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t let it slow me down. I also know that men rarely need to try to read those tea leaves – but women sometimes still do (and then decide how to handle the situation).
6. Voyage & Return
My career path has largely followed a consistent trajectory. But in 2003, I voluntarily stepped away from a comfortable position with an agency to do consulting on my own after the agency’s atmosphere had changed. When I returned to agency work three years later, it was with a different perspective. Time away let me get a fix on the bigger picture that can be lost in the nitty-gritty of everyday. Reborn into the agency world, I like to think that I bring more to my job than ever before.
Voyage and Return implies that you go off in one direction and eventually work your way back, making a “homecoming” of sorts. That doesn’t have to be the case, although it isn’t surprising that many Fortune 500 companies require rising leaders to “go out before they can go up” in order to broaden their exposure, grow personally, and develop a new perspective.
There is a place for re-starts in your professional life and they can be big or small. My brief departure described in the previous point could be viewed as such. The critical part is that those re-starts allow you to approach things fresh and with renewed energy.
This does not necessarily mean changing jobs or becoming a vegan. It could be a transition from agency to in-house, or from a mid-level contributor role to management. Whatever the change, it should mean occasionally cleaning out the cobwebs, challenging your own thinking, and being prepared to change directions in client strategy, your work habits, or how you interact with colleagues.
Opportunity: The Essence of the Story of Women In Advertising
When I bring these plot lines together, what is the essence of the story of women in advertising? From my perspective, it’s a story of opportunity. The opportunity is there to accomplish whatever a woman’s talent, effort, and determination merit.
Each of us will face challenges. For some the challenge will be outside the office, tending to an older parent or struggling with child care. For others, it will be a jerk – man or woman – in the cubicle next to them or the corner office.
I believe that you can and should be your authentic professional female self. You can and should embrace your own personal style, as long as you get the job done … doing right by yourself, your organization, your clients, and your colleagues and keep learning and moving forward every day. Dare I say, you’ll overcome the monster, go from rags to riches, and achieve your quest.
This is my story and perspective. But it is certainly not absolute. I would love to hear about the challenges you’ve faced and overcome, your successes, and the inspiration that has driven you along the way. Please visit dmwdirect.com/women/ to read what others have contributed and share your own thoughts if you’d like.