Repicture Women

June 18, 2014

While I was locked down in the jury room at Cannes, many of my Ketchum colleagues were experiencing the full array of sights, sounds and ideas the Festival has to offer. Here is the story of an epiphany experienced by Karen Strauss, our Chief Strategy and Creativity Officer. – Petra

Lean InLast week, upon accepting an invitation to mentor rising female creative talent at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, I was informed that the poster I wanted to give the young women had been rejected for being degrading. I was stunned. And then ashamed. I had personally approved the poster’s image of an exotic, bra-baring lady mixing up a brew, accompanied by the tagline “Stir Creativity,” never once thinking that it might perpetuate an unprogressive stereotype.

“We are uncomfortable portraying women in sexualized or supporting roles,” explained Senta Slingerland, the Festival’s Director of Brand Strategy. Senta started the “See It, Be It” program to provide positive role models and advancement opportunities to aspiring chief creative officers, and professional portrayals of successful women are integral to the initiative’s narrative.

Shamefaced, I packed my bags for France and began my week at the Festival by attending a talk hosted by Getty Images, the stock photo house where people like me buy pictures for posters and campaigns. Image anthropologist Pam Grossman and editor Jessica Bennett analyzed the way women have been depicted in stock imagery and elsewhere, and negative images are so rampant that the more media a young girl consumes, the fewer options she believes she has in life.

Their new “Lean In Collection” provides images of strength and empowerment that more accurately depict real women today. Rather than baring their flesh, the women in these pictures give speeches, lead meetings, put out fires and help raise families. The new collection was recently curated, explaining why the only photos we could find for the “Stir Creativity” poster were so provocative.

Since attending the session, I’ve heard or met with an impressive array of men and women who are passionately devoted to shifting perceptions of women and power. Here are the lessons I’m bringing home with me:

1. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” (Madeline Albright). Form sisterhoods and support each other. End the backstabbing.

2. Pictures are the language of our generation and a powerful cultural force shaping the perspectives of the next generation. Make choices that elevate rather than denigrate women– especially in social media,

3. Creative agencies need to stop using the term “woman’s account” – there’s no such thing. Creative teams should always be a mix of men and women who bring diverse viewpoints to diverse assignments.

4. Only 10 percent of content developers are women today, yet 85 percent of purchases are made or controlled by women. Make sure women are helping to create branded content.

5. Aspiring female leaders don’t need to act like men to advance. Just act like leaders and find mentors of both genders to help you along the way.

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