International Women's Day: 'You make your own luck' says Cheryl Giovannoni

Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, we publish the first in our series of interviews with leading women from the advertising and media industries.

Cheryl Giovannoni: the chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather UK
Cheryl Giovannoni: the chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather UK

Here, Cheryl Giovannoni, the chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather UK, shares her career tips and thoughts on work/life balance at agencies.

Has being a woman helped or hindered your career?

I believe you make your own luck. It's easy to blame external reasons for lack of progress – rather than drawing strength from obstacles and trying to overcome them. I thrive on proving that I can succeed against the odds, so I like to think that I make the most of whatever opportunities I have, and I am grateful for my good fortune. I don't spend a lot of energy believing things would have been easier if I were a man. That just seems so pointless and unhelpful.

Is work/life balance an issue at agencies?

Work/life balance is always a challenge, particularly in the tough, competitive world we live and work in. I often struggle to draw the boundaries very clearly, but I do try and be 100 per cent "in the moment" – whether I am working or spending time with my family. It doesn't always work, but then having a demanding career is a contract you sign up to, and where you are constantly juggling the many responsibilities you have. If work/life balance is your main priority, then you should probably not work in an agency – there are lots of rewarding, less-demanding jobs that you can do.

What are your top three tips for women getting into advertising?

Make sure it's something you feel truly passionate about. If it doesn't excite you, there really is no point. It will wear you down quickly.   

Don't play the politics or rely on anything but talent and huge amounts of effort to get on in the business. There are no shortcuts, and you will be found out really quickly.

Work hard to make yourself invaluable. Always try and bring something interesting/insightful/surprising to the table. You will earn a reputation and everyone will want you on their team.  

Only 26 per cent of those in advertising leadership are women (IPA Census 2013). Is this enough?

That is a woeful statistic and needs to be addressed urgently. Women are increasingly influential decision makers across most categories, and if there are not enough women running the organisations responsible for producing communications that appeal to women, then everyone misses out.

Also, there is plenty of research that shows organisations that have equal numbers of men and women in senior roles are better run and are ultimately more successful. This is something we should all be focused on fixing, at every level and in every department in our agencies.  

Which woman do you admire in the industry?

I recently became a member of WACL and in the shortest space of time, I have been overwhelmed with the encouragement, enthusiasm and the warmest of welcomes. It makes me proud that women are rooting for each other and working together to make things better for us all. So it's the WACL organisation as a whole that gets my vote.  

Do you think women are portrayed positively in advertising campaigns?

Not always. My biggest issue is the obsession with celebrity and how this is shaping the aspirations of so many young women.

They are trying to live up to the glamorous images thrust upon them – the often dangerously skinny images – the pressure to be seen wearing all the right kit at the most fashionable clubs, keeping up with those "role models" whose every waking moment is spent maximising their chances of nobbling the prince/footballer/investment banker. All these feed female insecurities, and take up too much media space. Creating more positive role models by focusing on women whose success is based on hard work, talent and achievement will really help. 

Look out for our IWD interviews throughout the week on