How did you get started in advertising? What's been your career road map?
Believe it or not, I have E.T. and the Reese’s Pieces candy he loved eating to thank for my start in advertising. My mom took me to see the movie to celebrate my eighth birthday and when the final credits started rolling, I turned to her and asked if she could please take me to the store to buy some Reese’s Pieces. When I took my first bite I didn’t like them at all (yuck; M&Ms tasted so much better, I thought), but I kept eating them because E.T. did.
I knew the influence the movie had on me and I was fascinated. I wanted to be part of creating that type of influence one day, by inspiring people to make choices that they enjoyed. Advertising seemed like a way (at least to my 8-year-old self) to do that, and so here I am.
E.T. inspired my start and me in countless other ways. He showed me that even if you don’t see yourself in the place you dream of being a part of, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get there. I never saw a Kristina Jenkins in any of the cultural expressions of who worked in advertising growing up (I’m not Darren from Bewitched or Amanda from Melrose Place). I still rarely see her today. But I’m here in the place of my dreams.
He also helped me discover that inspiration resides in the most unexpected places like aliens and in candy. It doesn’t matter where or who your dream comes from; it’s where you take it.
Throughout my career, I’ve followed an inner compass more than a road map. My career started with a calling that gave me a vision for what I wanted to be and why. I wasn’t always exactly sure where I wanted to go. There were many times when I got distracted, disappointed or lost during my career. And when I did, I closed my eyes and thought back to that moment when I watching E.T. with my mom in a Long Island movie theater. It’s the moment when I decided that I would do extraordinary things in advertising. I remember how I wanted to help influence people in positive ways. Then I opened my eyes, promised myself I would settle for nothing less, took some time to get clear on where I was going and figured out a way to get there.
What keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal motto?
What keeps me motivated is thinking about all the people who are made to feel that it’s not okay to be different, who encounter “no” and “can’t“ and “never“ again and again while they’re pursuing their dreams and goals. I think about a generation of talent that is growing up right now dreaming about being a Chief Strategy Officer one day, and I keep doing what I’m doing so that they can see themselves in what I do and what I am, and so that they have someone who inspires them to do great things in this industry, to remind them not to let anyone talk them out of their dream or make them doubt the difference they can make.
Photos: Don Lupo
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
When I found the courage to be myself and do things my way and take on roles that allowed me to think and collaborate with supportive talent, that’s when I realized there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. I’m totally comfortable working with companies that aren’t always the “it” award-winning agencies with the top clients in the hottest cities. I’ve learned to look past all that and focus on my own vision and larger purpose, and on my career. I look for the right opportunities with the right companies at the right time. That’s what I’ve learned to do.
What excites you most about this industry?
Complex business problems and heightened consumer expectations are creating all sorts of opportunities for agencies and their leaders to let go and re-imagine existing strategic staffing models, fundamentals, frameworks, and playbooks. This excites me the most. In too many instances, we’re relying on 20th century ways of working to solve 21st century challenges. This industry can be more of catalyst for what’s new and what’s never been done before.
Where is advertising heading? What do the next five years look like?
I think it’s going to be challenged in unprecedented ways. Those that hang on and resist change will become irrelevant. Those who create opportunity out of these challenges will thrive.
What advice do you have for those just starting in advertising?
Discover that you’re different. Surround yourself with people who believe in your “different.” Master your “different.” Push boundaries with your “different.” Help others unlock and confidently charge forward with their “different.”
This industry may try to make you feel that you are lucky to work in it. That’s how the industry made me feel when I first started. Remember that this industry needs you. We need your optimism, courage, energy, and “different" to help us re-imagine the way things have always been done.
Be the strongest version of yourself, mentally, spiritually and physically. This industry requires a level of strength like you can’t imagine. Unapologetically create space and time to take care of yourself and recharge.
I’ve made all my career decisions by listening to my heart. For example, saying "Yes" early in my career to what many saw was a huge mistake (leaving a big NYC TV agency to live in the sunshine in L.A., while also working at a digital agency). There also was a time when I said "Thank you, but no thank you" to working 24/7 at some of the most prestigious agencies on the most iconic brands, so I could say "Yes" to working with a company that designed a role around me and the life I wanted.
Start by asking yourself what life you want. Then think about the job you want and where.
You’ve worked in advertising in both coasts. Which does it better?
They are very different and offer very different opportunities. There is nothing like working in advertising in N.Y. It’s a city that celebrates sophistication and polish. It’s a city of random collisions that lead to collaborations and ideas that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Agencies own their point of view. There is an electricity that fills their walls, along with a relentless pursuit of greatness. It forces you to assert yourself in unprecedented ways. It humbles you and challenges you with setbacks where you have to decide if you are going to get back up and try again daily.
Los Angeles is bright, optimistic and full of possibility. It doesn’t take itself so seriously. I once read that California is the place that New Yorkers go when they want to be a better version of themselves. I’ve found that to be true. It’s a great place to be as a talent if you want to experiment with new ways of approaching things. It gives you space and permission to recharge, and encourages you to use the inspiration that emerges when you do in your work.
What should our industry be talking about in 2018?
I’d love to hear more conversation about what senior leaders can learn from talent that is brand new to the advertising industry. They have much to teach us. I’ve always wanted to create a program where someone who is a year into their career mentored someone who has been in the business for 20 years.
Any closing thoughts?
We never do great things alone. There are so many people who have been part of helping me get to a place where I can inspire others. To each and every one of them I say, "Thank you".
Kristina Jenkins is Chief Strategy Officer at Zambezi. Prior to joining Zambezi, Kristina was Culture Intelligence Officer at mcgarrybowen.