DDB Worldwide’s global female leadership push

Phyllis Robinson and Mel Routhier

Recognizing that the number of female creative leaders in advertising is disproportionate to the large number of existing female talent, DDB Worldwide has launched a bold new global search in order to target and elevate the most talented and creative females in their network.

Named “The Phyllis Project” and launched last month, the initiative has recognized twelve women, including DDB Chicago’s SVP Group Creative Director Mel Routhier, whom they expect to lead the industry globally.

“We take development of our next-generation women talent rather seriously and have committed to ensuring that our top creative women around the world are offered opportunities they deserve to further their careers,” said DDB Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Amir Kassaei.

The network currently has three top level females — Tove Langseth in Sweden, Christina Yu in Red Urban Toronto and Carol Lam in Hong Kong. But according to Kassaei it’s nowhere near where it should be.

Determined to make a statement globally, Kassaei turned to Chief Talent Officer, Sally Ali, and DDB’s global talent management and corporate development teams, in order to develop the program. For inspiration, they looked no further than DDB’s legendary first female (and only at its founding) copywriter, Copy Chief and in-house “rule breaker,” Phyllis Robinson.

Inducted into The Copywriter Hall of Fame in 1968, Robinson was known for promoting an atmosphere of creative freedom where diverse opinions (and people) were welcome.

“Creative women before Phyllis were primarily confined to ‘female’ categories, like fashion or home goods,” Kassaei explained. “Phyllis not only changed that herself, but in the teams, she hired and assigned. From the founding of DDB, she was instrumental to the revolutionary work created for clients Ohrbach, Levy’s and Polaroid as well as the creative principles of the agency.”

Kassaei went on to describe Robinson as having a tremendous ability to differentiate between great creative ideas and what Bill Bernbach termed “creative acrobatics.”

He went onto explain why Robinson was considered a “rule-breaker” when it came to working mothers. “When she became pregnant with her first child, she approached Bernbach to step down from her role as Copy Chief but to continue to work a 3-day week overseeing top clients Polaroid and Clairol.” Her Clairol campaign’s “It lets me be me” helped define the entire “Me” generation.

The selection team found the twelve rising female stars through an extensive search which included DDB Chicago, DDB Brazil, DDB Mudra Mumbai, DDBNew Zealand, DDB Paris, DDB Düsseldorf, DDB Berlin, DDB South Africa, Alma DDBMiami, DDB Spain, Tribal Toronto and DDB New York.

For the next year, these twelve will engage in a customized global and mentoring program, personalized career development, assignments on global pitches and client briefs for DDB’s top global clients, invitations to prominent industry events including Cannes and guaranteed enrollment in DDB Worldwide’s leadership training programs and customized workshops.

With the role of women in film, TV, media and life a daily topic of discussion, DDB Chicago’s Mel Routhier, a 19-year advertising veteran who oversees their State Farm and (co-leads) Kohler accounts, sees the importance of the initiative. In the agency’s Lemon 2020 blog, “I believe it is imperative that our agency looks like the world outside our windows. Full of every color and gender and orientation and belief.”

LA-Based Colin Costello writes for film, TV, advertising and of course, Reel Chicago. He can be reached at colin@colincostello.com.