Editor’s Note: Five years ago we had an idea. Being a woman-owned publication, it made sense to celebrate women who were making a difference in the industries we cover. So, we started a feature for Women’s History Month called “Reel Women.” Over the last four years, we have gotten to know leaders, mentors and visionaries from a variety of creative industries. This is our 5th Annual REEL WOMEN. For the month of March, let us introduce you to some very special women like Executive Creative Director at 1o8, Jen Bills.
Jen Bills has worked as a creative leader at FCB and OKRP. She’s currently the Executive Creative Director at 1o8. Her client portfolio includes Ty, Chili’s, Nike Chicago, Illinois Tourism, Big Lots, and Home Chef, to name just a few. Her recent work for Illinois Cares For Kids was a shortlist finalist for the Digiday Greater Good Awards, and Reel Chicago’s Reel Ad of the Week.
Let’s meet Jen.
What’s your origin story?
I’m a Chicago improv comedy kid — came here to study it and try to eventually work for SNL. While I was on the Second City etc, Lorne and his team came. They asked a few of us for writing packets. In mine I sent a commercial parody for a fake Belgian beer called Fahkmabut that featured a bunch of Belgian models encouraging the audience to “Come…Fahkmabut.” Didn’t get the writing job but I found out I was pregnant with my amazing and hilarious daughter a few days after I sent it so it was probably for the best.
How did you get into the advertising industry?
While I was touring for Second City, I was invited to help write and voice Taco Bell commercials for FCB. It was pretty fun finding the voice for Chalupas and Nachos Bell Grandes. I was hooked and started freelance copywriting on more of their brands. Ended up creative directing pretty quickly because I was already a maker in the comedy world. I loved the puzzle of communicating something entertaining and memorable for clients. I was an early OKRP hire and stayed there until I joined 1o8 a little over a year ago.
Who were your mentors?
I’ve learned from so many amazing people from every part of the advertising spectrum. Tom O’Keefe was my main creative mentor. He helped me find my path from entertainer to brand creative. Loved learning from the playful Myra Mazzei when I was at FCB. Recently got to finally work with Erin Sarofsky and bask in her brains. Pat Durkin taught me to make fun of my assignment until I loved it. Sue Gillan taught me to be real and have a dance party until it comes to me. Sue Salvi taught me to dress comfortably because in between script versions we might find a treasure in the alley.
While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?
I’ve been lucky to work with a number of brave, collaborative clients like Big Lots, Chili’s and Illinois Tourism but my team’s recent work for Illinois Cares For Kids is helping families get much-needed, affordable, quality child care and it’s so thrilling to see what parents can do with the tiniest bit of help, it feels like the most important work I’ve been fortunate enough to do.
What drives you to create?
There are so many stories that haven’t been told and so little time! Every time the world makes me laugh, I’m suddenly writing a monologue or scene into my phone. Sometimes I improvise in the car after someone road rages out on me and I have to pull over to record a pop song into my phone. “PLEASE DON’T KILL ME ON ASHLAND AVENUUUUE. I JUST WENT TO COSTCO AND GOT ALL THIS FOOOOOOD…”
Award you crave, but haven’t won?
I want an Effie, Babyyyy! An Effie would make me feel legit–like I was responsible and I still had a great time with the work. I don’t want to fill out another Effie application soon, but I have to say, seeing what you and your team did after filling one out is pretty fun, too.
What shows/movies/songs are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?
For me, strong is authentic. I’m a big fan of the perfectly imperfect Sharon Horgan, the fearless and hilarious Amber Ruffin, and another 50 fellow Second City alums.
Is there still a boys club in advertising?
A boys club? Definitely. Look at the demographics of the Super Bowl directors. We keep awarding based on who’s got the reel but that means we’ve been hiring the same dudes since the 90s. And the same white men owe them a million favors for the free sizzle pitch videos to win the work. Repeat.
Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman (living or dead) you would like to attend each function with
Lol. Coffee with RBG
Lunch with J Law
Happy Hour with Jennifer Coolidge. Or that little girl who loves herself in the wig in that TikTok video. She can join with a Shirley Temple because she’s a scream.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled against Roe v Wade. If you oppose the decision, what can women in your industry do to defend a woman’s rights?
We should all refuse to visit or spend a dime in the states that have made it unsafe for women to exist. Except maybe to drop off longtime, medically-proven-safe, emergency contraception.
What keeps you up at night?
I’m pretty freaked out that, across the nation, lunatics are putting forth legislation to police gender. If the loss of women’s reproductive rights took us all back 50 years, these bills preventing children from seeing adults in lipstick takes us back 80-100.
What’s up with Beyoncé being nominated for 4 Best Albums of the year but never winning?
Love Beyonce so much and she should win everything forever and always but I also love Harry Styles and that recent album so I’m a mess and would like to ask for privacy during this difficult time.
ALSO READ: MORE REEL WOMEN
ALSO READ: REEL 360 — REEL WOMEN
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