In Orbit With... Gina Grillo

Next time you’re in a commercial break, ask yourself “who is the woman being represented?”

You know what she looks like – beautiful, thin, vividly aspirational…

You know what she needs – a handbag, a perfume, a knight to save her…

But do you know who she really is?

Women are often represented at unrealistic standards in order to sell products – standards which can have damaging effects to their self-perception and enforce outdated gender stereotypes. This is objectification, and simply: it needs to stop.

Still can’t see it? Have a look at this...

However, the tide is turning and women like Gina Grillo, President and CEO of The ADVERTISING Club in New York, are working to change the conversation.

TMU: How did you first get involved in the advertising field? 

GG: It was an internship at a PR firm. I wasn’t thinking about pursuing a career in advertising and communications; I was thinking about banking, so this was a turnaround once I was exposed to the media business and advertising.
I loved the energetic environment. All I could think about was being on Madison Avenue and not on Wall Street.

TMU: You’ve spent over 20 years at The ADVERTISING Club, what work during that time are you the proudest of?  

GG: When I first started here, the area I was working on was the Foundation and the International ANDY Awards, and the evolution of both of those programs is what I’m most proud of.

We’ve managed to stay relevant in this ever-changing environment where change and transformation happen constantly – I’m proud that The Club still has a voice and people are connected and engaged with us.
On the ANDY Awards front, when we first started we were one of 500 shows and over time we’ve emerged into the top tier and are now highly valued, which feels great.  Awards shows are under a lot of scrutiny. I’m proud of what our show stands for: raising the level of craft, honoring the people who do the work, the bravery of the idea and the creative/client collaboration.
TMU: Could you tell us a bit more about your work on ‘I’mPART’ and your position along with Madonna Badger and Cannes Lions on work that reflects gender bias?  

GG: The Club is very active on the diversity & inclusion issue, we see a need  to focus on retaining talent  in the industry so we started a fellowship for women – who had 1 to 10 years of experience – nurturing them in a way that gave them access, a seat at the table, and helping them in their careers.
As an industry, we are a part of the problem reinforcing outdated stereotypes which impact the community, so when we were approached by Madonna Badger and saw Cannes Lions was instituting a stance against gender stereotypes in advertising too, it felt like a natural step for us to get onboard with it for the ANDYs as well. Who wants to support work that isn’t a positive representation?
Since the ANDY Jury is integrated and the judging process is pure and intimate, the group is very thoughtful and universally supported this ban.  As the first show of the season, it’s important for us to set the right tone for awards season.

TMU: Besides yourself, who else is doing work that you consider important in the industry currently? 

GG: Coming off of the award show season, that’s an easy question! P&G out of India’s ‘Share the Load’ – a story of Indian culture and its traditional gender roles -- is about sharing responsibility, all done through a soap detergent brand, Ariel. The spot has this underpinning of social responsibility and gender equality, themes that have become increasingly important in our work. Ariel's 'Share The Load' campaign - a shining example of social responsibility.

GG: The craft involved in Kenzo’s ‘My Mutant Brain’ is extraordinary, and the fact that it comes from a beauty brand is very innovative, reminding people why they love this business.

GG: Not as new, but on the frontier of what our industry is looking for, was ‘The Field Trip to Mars’ by Lockheed Martin. It was lauded at Cannes last year, but I still feel that it’s worth a mention as the first of its kind VR experience.

TMU: Which do you think is a more pressing issue: the state of gender/ethnic representation in advertising itself, or the diversity of representation within the power structures of advertising companies behind the scenes?


GG: Well, unfortunately they work hand in hand. The lack of diversity in our industry may be what’s driving some of the gender/ethnic stereotyping. As the employee base within our industry becomes more diverse, there should be fewer stereotypical images being served up.
TMU: Aside from the obvious need for equal representation of minority groups, what do you think are the biggest benefits from increased diversity in the industry? 

GG: In terms of the power of diversity of thought, gaining greater perspective is probably the most critical piece – if we all think the same, dress the same, do the same things, it’s not productive, and opening up to new perspectives overcomes that.
When promoting diversification, self-awareness is even more important. As individuals we all need to take responsibility and not presume ‘someone else is taking care of it’ or ‘that’s not my job’. It’s an issue for all of us in this business, and whatever part of the industry you’re working in or representing it’s worthwhile to be mindful of that.
TMU: What do you think is the best way for the individual to involve themselves in promoting diversification?            

GG: For a start, I think it’s important to ensure that influencers and people in the spotlight are using their voice in the best way possible. Right now we’re seeing many brands align with influencers to move products, so if more of these individuals in the spotlight involve themselves in areas of social concern and responsibility on behalf of the brands that would go a long way.
One person who is really making a difference is Tiffany Warren, the founder of ADCOLOR. This event highlights the successful careers of people from all different backgrounds and shines a light on people who were not regularly featured at events or conferences. Now it’s grown into a 2-day conference with a whole track for young people. It’s very impressive.
TMU: Given the chance, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self? 

GG: Don’t overthink something – just do it. Overthinking has a tendency to paralyze us – it’s just better to dive in. I grew up in a generation that doesn’t accept failure as graciously as it is today and overthinking sometimes got in my way.
TMU: Finally, what’s the best diner in New York at the moment? 

GG: Jimmy’s All American diner right here on 36th street.

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