When we made the call for our Women of Color in Advertising list, we were thrilled to be introduced to a true champion of diversity and inclusion: Shari Holly. Shari is the Program Manager for PIPELINES at PRETTYBIRD, a non-profit aiming to close the access and opportunity gap by connecting underrepresented talent directly to opportunities and programs in tech and creative industries through a mobile app and series of engaging programs.
Photos: Don Lupo Photography
How did you get started in advertising? What's been your career road map?
My career road map is rather unconventional. Growing up in Detroit, at the time there weren’t many other black women pursuing creative careers, starting businesses, or creating non-traditional methods for success. There was a stigma (which is what I was taught) to find a stable and secure job (government, lawyer, teacher doctor), climb the corporate ladder, and retire with a sweet pension: the good ole’ American dream. I knew I was born a creative, but you really don’t know what you don’t know, and furthermore, without much access or role models, pursuing creative careers seems rather far-fetched in a sense.
I moved to Kalamazoo (yes, it’s a real city), graduated from college with a degree in Business and Spanish, and formed the idea along the way that I wanted to work in Immigration Reform and/or International Business. I wasn’t until I moved to Chicago and worked for the Tribune that I’d realize that I actually belong in Media and Entertainment, not the government. Working in advertising at the Tribune exposed me to a world of creative and media that I long to know more about and this is where my creative career was born.
After reaching my wits' end with Chicago’s brutal weather, I moved to LA never having been here before and made looking for a job full time. A month later, I landed a job (which apparently rarely happens to transplants who move here) working for a direct-response advertising agency assisting a media buyer. I didn’t love it. Numbers and post logs have never been my thing. I did that for about a year before moving on to a post-production house where I worked in Digital Media Services.
In my two and a half years here, I learned quite a bit about new age media and how VOD platforms are drastically changing the way content is digested. It was very interesting, but as much as I learned, I had reached a point in my career of having the strong desire to do something purposeful. Spending 75% of my life at a job that didn’t have purpose or give back was not something I wanted to do anymore.
I came across an opportunity to be a Diversity Program Manager for PromaxBDA. I had zero experience in D&I or Program Development but knew this would be an opportunity I would enjoy and would find purpose. Kat, the VP who interviewed me (and now, my lifelong mentor) took a chance on me and hired me because she felt my passion and commitment to this cause. It was at PromaxBDA that I realized for the first time in my life, that this is where I belonged. This work is the work that I want to do for a lifetime, and that’s to commit to doing what I can to close the access and opportunity gap for aspiring, yet underrepresented creatives, to increase inclusion in our creative industries and to create space of belonging for minorities in this industry.
After PromaxBDA, I worked with the Directors Guild of America and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers to jumpstart their first-ever Commercial Directors Diversity Program, then moved on to PRETTYBIRD, where I am currently spearheading the PIPELINES diversity and inclusion initiative. Here, we are taking a radical, unconventional approach to connecting underrepresented talent to our tech and creative industries through a mobile app. We also host a series of engaging programs and events for our demo as well. I am committed to this and exactly where I belong!
What keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal motto?
On a personal level, life genuinely keeps me motivated. I never take a day that I wake up in the morning for granted. Every (new) day that I have is another literal opportunity to do something different, to take my purpose to a higher level, to be thankful for my many blessings, to spread truth and peace.
Professionally, the amount of work that still needs to be done to create more direct paths the underrepresented to opportunities in our creative industries is what keeps me motivated. I have a “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality when it comes to my work.
My personal and forever motto is “I don’t need easy; I just need possible”. I heard this in a movie called “Swimfan” and coined it as my personal mantra in everything that I do.
What excites you most about this industry?
That it’s always, always changing, and that the opportunities are limitless. Entertainment and Media are very unique industries that constantly require adaptability and change… and I love change.
Where is advertising heading? What do the next five years look like?
Hopefully, advertising is moving away from the "safe" and "traditional" and gravitating more towards the radical, boundary-pushing work that’s reflective and inclusive. I believe the next five years look like more biracial parents in commercials, more VR experiences to increase empathy in our branding for example. Brands will also face a challenge of engaging a particular, demanding, and technology-dependent demo. Brands will have to connect with their diverse demo on a deeper, personal, and more emotional level as it’s becoming more about the person and less about the masses. What a time to be alive!
What advice do you have for black advertising professionals who are beginning their careers?
There was a clip we shot of Omar Johnson, former CMO of Beats, explaining his experiences being the “only black person in the room” and what we expressed was so simple yet so powerful and something I will never, ever forget. Being black and in entertainment, there will be many times you will experience being in meetings/rooms/sets where no one or hardly anyone looks like you and while many will view this as a disadvantage, it’s actually quite the opposite. It boils down to perspective. He expressed that once he shifted his perspective, so did the dynamic in his interactions. He said that he views being the only black person in the room as a superpower. A superpower! That your views and ideas are unique, much needed, and unlike any other perspective the majority can offer. You can empathize in ways others cannot. You can offer a view that is special and autonomous. No one can offer your (necessary) view except for you and that is where you find your power, your confidence, your authenticity in your work. A light bulb went off as I watched this clip and not only have I shifted my own perspective, but I encourage other black creatives and professionals to do the same.
What should our industry be talking about in 2018?
What they can be doing specifically to create an inclusive work environment and how they can change/revamp their hiring practices and culture to attract, hire, and retain more diverse talent? Aside from the fact that having more inclusive teams and work environments increase the bottom line, the world and the world of entertainment is evolving drastically and company cultures must do the same.
Any closing thoughts?
“If you don’t prioritize your being, your doing will suffer. It’s simple, but not easy.” – Robyn Ward