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Bee Lee
Public Relations

International Women's Day Issue: Honoring Female Industry Leaders, Nayaab Reis, FP7 McCann, Mandie van der Merwe, Dentsu Creative Sydney, Roanna Williams, Net#work BBDO

08 March 2023

LIA Celebrates International Women's Month
With Amazing Women From Around the World
Who Have Shaped Our Industry


Senior Creative Director
FP7 McCann, Dubai

With an overall industry experience of 17+ years, spanning Middle East & North Africa, Asia-Pacific and India, Nayaab has been responsible for memorable campaigns for brands such as Mastercard, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, HSBC, Kraft, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Johnson & Johnson, Emirates, and more. She has served as a jury member and has received honors across festivals including Clios, Cannes, D&AD, One Show, New York Festival, and Loeries among others, which has helped her rank as one of the Top 15 Creative Directors globally.

Her overarching philosophy is to create beautifully simple and witty work, which helps businesses get fame and ultimately, more business.
I got into advertising, because I spent a decade avoiding getting into it.

I grew up surrounded by ad folks, with copywriter uncles, art director aunts, and client servicing cousins (those were actual monikers in our household). I learnt the words ‘print’, ‘campaign’ and ‘headline’, before I was 5, and in my world ‘briefs’ meant something people would give creative people, and not wear.

As much as my family’s lives fascinated me, I wanted to chart my own course. So, from the age of 10 untill about 19, I dreamt up every other vocation possible, that did not follow the same path as my family. I thought about being a vet, but I found greater comfort in writing stories about mice, than dissecting their dead carcasses in labs. I tried being an engineer, but I ended up melding solder wire to create jewellery, not circuits. I even got into business school, but the most fun I had with that was when I could make presentation decks. It was then, that my mother (bless her soul) pointed out the fact that I was blissfully avoiding – “Nayaab, you love creativity!”. She advised me to stop being stubborn and letting my passions lead the way. I accidentally got a temp gig at an agency in Mumbai when I was only 19. 17 years and a couple of continents later, I can connect the dots backwards and say it out loud – “Advertising was simply meant to be my destiny.”

Just because it was destiny, doesn’t mean it was an easy ride. I was either the only woman in the room or one of the few. This meant that I have been subject to everything from objectification, sexist jokes and stereotyping, all the while struggling to keep my hair frizz-free despite the humidity. I am, however, grateful for that experience, because it helped me meet and bond with one of the other rare female creatives in my region at the time, my creative partner and work husband, Josephine Younes. 

We were one of the first all-female creative teams in the region, so we were navigating an unchartered territory. We faced stereotyped briefing where we were given only “beauty” briefs and had to challenge the innate bias of our colleagues and clients, which was a result of years of exposure to only male creative leads. How did we counter all of that? With our work. We knew that we might have to work harder, and fight longer than our male counterparts. But by putting all of our efforts into the work, and making that our signature was our way of blurring the lines that existed between genders. And ensuring that talent would be the only thing that mattered. It wasn’t long before the industry was flooded with female creatives, who all paved the way for each other. Our biggest success as women in this region’s advertising landscape, was when all the female creatives banded together, and levelled the field simply by lifting each other.

I guess the point I am making with this retrospective piece is that women lifting other women up and supporting them is a powerful and necessary movement in society. With gender inequality and bias still prevalent in many industries and countries, it's crucial for women to support one another and create opportunities for each other. This means promoting and uplifting each other's work, advocating for each other's ideas, and providing mentorship and guidance when needed. When women work together, they have the power to break down barriers and make significant strides towards a more equitable future. By creating a supportive community, women can lift each other up and create a space where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and succeed. 

The proof of this lives in the support I have received from, and given to, the female creative community, my work bestie and the one who started it all, my Mum.

Chief Creative Officer 
Dentsu Creative, Sydney

Mandie is the joint Chief Creative Officer at Dentsu Creative, Australia. Over the last 18 years, she has worked on 3 continents and been recognised over 200 times at local and international award shows, including Clios, Cannes, D&AD, One Show and more.

After graduating from art school, Mandie, much to the chagrin of her purist art friends, sold her soul to advertising. But, over time, she’s bought it back. The payment has been made, painstakingly, with an ideal that we can change business and social problems with great ideas and the care to execute them beautifully. It is this belief that has guided her work on Tourism Australia, Fox Sports, Nando’s, Tourism New Zealand, MINI and Go Gentle Australia.

Beyond the world of advertising, Mandie is an enthusiastic ceramicist and hopes, one day, to own a kiln and have the time to use it. 
I’m not a huge fan of writing things like this.
They make me feel a bit awkward. A bit icky.
I’ve learnt to do it.
Much as I have learnt to navigate the industry I work in and love.
The reason I write this is because I’ve come to realise that each of us has way more power than we think.
We’ve been led to believe that the greatest contributors to our industry have some fancy name on the door and more metal on their shelves than a blacksmith.
But I’m not sure.
I think the greatest in our industry change individuals.
The greatest of our industry radically transform the realities of minute numbers of people.
In doing so, they set off a chain reaction and transform the lives of many.
It’s the type of thinking that has shaped the way I approach the work I make too.
I recently did a campaign for Tourism Australia. It included a super fun, animated short film called “Come and Say G’day” and was led by a superstar cast and a huge director. Previously I worked on a seriously distressing and important piece of work to change the laws around voluntary assisted dying in the State of Victoria in Melbourne. It was called "Stop the Horror". It was a piece of work that changed me in many ways.
Both of these jobs had huge audiences. Immense pressure to make a difference to large groups of people.
But the thinking was focussed on making the difference to just one tourism operator. Just one person suffering with a terminal illness.
The work had mass appeal and reach. But the thinking was for one person. My favourite bosses treated me with that same philosophy.
They felt like they had a responsibility to me.
And because of that, they lifted up more than just me.
Every single one of us, regardless of our position, can change the world.
We just need to change the world of one person.
And, hopefully, this awkward piece of writing does that.
Hopefully it reaches one person and makes them realise that their sphere of influence is much larger than they could ever imagine.

Pronouns she/her
Chief Creative Officer 
Net#work BBDO, Johannesburg 
Chairperson of the Creative Circle SA 

Roanna Williams’ passion for brand communication is driven by her belief that through creativity, we can affect the change we want to see in the world. A belief deeply rooted in the Net#work BBDO DNA, that “Brands are the navigation system and tools of the 21st century, for consumers to simplify and manoeuvre their lives.” A truth that is far relevant today than ever. 
An experienced brand communicator, creative activist, creative inspirer and an artist who is working hard at having it all, prosperous career and mother-hood. Inspired by her 4 daughters to have it all, mother, career-business women, brand communicator, artist, creator and problem solver, Williams is one of the leading “Creative Forces” of the South African landscape. 
With 25 years working experience under her belt, Williams earned herself one of the rarest accolades in the South African Advertising landscape, when she received the accolade “Top Advertising Woman of 2018/19”. 
I find writing about myself a very intimidating task. I immediately get writers block, and I’m not even a writer.... So, please bear with me.
I have been in the industry for 25 years. That’s half a century! ??
I must love it, right?? Nope. Not exactly.
If I had to describe advertising, I would say: 
It’s satisfying, but gut-wrenching.?
It’s fun, but really hard work.?
It’s passionate, but filled with anxiety. 
It’s exciting, but can get you down.?
It’s exhausting, but exhilarating.
?It’s complicated, but the best ideas are so simple. 
It’s filled with drama, but action packed.?
It’s a gold lion, but also not even a shortlist. 

And I guess, this is why I’ve been in it for a quarter century. It’s a complex blend of opposite emotions of highs and lows, and to do our best work, we need them both to feel fully fulfilled.

Ok, let’s rewind.

I never knew I would stumble into the complex relationship career of advertising. I was going to be an architect. No, a fine artist. No, an architect. No, a fine artist and so the pendulum swung me into neither.

Naïve, lacking self-confidenc,e but filled with creative ambition and a graphic design qualification, I started my career at TBWA as a junior art director. I knew nothing. But felt I had something. Then, late one night in the advertising studio I came head-to-head with the most successful female creative in the South African ad world at the time. The person that young creative females were meant to look up to and aspire to become.?That was definatley not how I felt. 

I had been working late for eight consecutive weeks on a big campaign. Saturday and Sunday included. It was 11:21pm and I was finishing off the final look and feel. Then, “the most successful female creative in the SA ad world at the time," my ECD, peered over my shoulder at my screen and shouted: “You are f%$#’ing useless!” 
Broken and exhausted, I lay awake in bed later and asked myself, “Is this what female success in this industry looks like?” Because then, I wanted out, quickly. After a good think, I decided to stay, but first made a big commitment to myself. I would never aspire to that type of leadership and would work hard to lead with more heart. 

I will never regret this commitment, as I get to work every day feeling super blessed to be leading (and hopefully inspiring) so many talented, diverse and interesting people. 

Recently, I became the first woman chairperson of the Creative Circle. The Creative Circle is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting creativity as a business resource and maintaining high levels of creativity in the South African advertising industry. If you had asked me 25 years ago, 12 years ago or even 2 years ago that I would have this role, my response would have been, never. Through this role, I hope to inspire other women in the industry to know that their voice matters, their seat at the table is effective and leading with heart has the most impact. 

My current everyday motto comes from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. It has a few flaws as back then, he only addressed it to men, so, I have adjusted the flaws to include all people: 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the individual who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself/herself/theyself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he/she/they fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his/her/they place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

When asked the question about what the future of advertising looks like, my answer is simply that it’s not a science and hard to predict completely, but let’s get in the arena and forge the way. 

Thanks for reading.