Olivia Parker
Feb 27, 2019

"Everything would be better if we had more women": Tara Ford

We talk to the executive creative director of DDB Sydney about the idea of being labelled a "female ECD", the lack of role models for women in advertising and raising four children alongside a successful career.

Tara Ford, ECD of DDB Sydney
Tara Ford, ECD of DDB Sydney

Tara Ford has a simple wish for the advertising industry. “I just think everything would be better if there were more women, especially in creative departments.”

The executive creative director of DDB Sydney speaks from the experience of some 20 years in the business. She joined DDB in September 2017 from TBWA Australia, where she spent five years developing campaigns that include multi-award-winning work for ANZ Bank, such as GAYTMs, ‘Pocket Money’ (see video, below) and ‘Hold Tight’, among others. A recent campaign with DDB for Carefree, ‘The Matriarchs’ (see box, bottom), won the Glass Spike For Change last year. 

Much of her work has addressed social issues, and Ford says that in general, stereotypes in Australian ads are less prevalent than they were. She herself has always been conscious to steer clear of “putting the little girl in pink, with the doll”, for example. “I think people are generally much more conscious of stereotyping and I think it’s just a way for brands to be modern, completely in step with society and keeping up with what's actually happening out there in the world.”

There’s no chance she’d get presented with ideas that were sexist or stereotyped now, she says. This is one of the advantages of an agency having a female ECD: as the first port of call before work reaches a client, she knows everyone on her team is on automatic cliché alert, which includes avoiding figures like the “hopeless dad”, a character Ford has a particular aversion to.

Ford says that she still gets surprised when people refer to her as a “female ECD”. “Throughout my whole career I've never thought of myself as a female creative, I’ve just thought of myself as a creative”. But she has occasionally felt the benefit of her gender, despite frequently being the only female in a room. “I just get on with that,” she says. “In a way, I also think you can use that to your advantage, because as a woman you have got different experiences you can draw on, different ways of thinking about things. You can bring a different point of view, and that's what creativity is about.”

She’s seen instances of harassment in the industry, but says it’s something she hasn’t encountered for a long time. “I think it is getting better,” she comments. “But I still think it is a reality and I think a lot is not talked about, and we wouldn't see or hear about it.”

Ford is a mentor on the Cannes ‘See It Be It’ initiative to address gender imbalance in the industry, and is firmly in favour of striving towards a time when more women hold powerful positions because “diversity does make business better”. There’s no single reason why she remains in the minority both as an ECD and a female creative, she thinks.

“There aren't role models. Advertising is notorious for being very, very demanding and not flexible, and having children—obviously not every woman has children, but if you do have children it's quite often quite difficult to get back in and not everyone feels like they want to commit that kind of time. But it's not any one thing, because obviously there are plenty of women who don't have kids and that's not always the case.”

Things are shifting, in Australia, at least, because a wider group than mothers is now pushing for a better work-life balance, says Ford. “Everyone wants that, and I think everybody should be entitled to that, not just women with kids, for sure.”

For her own part, Ford is raising four sons alongside running her career. Her favourite comment about this, she says, was from a person who said: “You seem so normal!” “People just look at me and think ‘oh my God,’” she laughs. But she doesn’t see a difference between her position and that of her partner, her children's father.

“He works full time and we have a very even kind of relationship where he is incredibly supportive. I think that it’s not just an issue for me, I think that's an issue for him too, and he deals with it just as I deal with it. We do what we can when we can, we go where we’re needed, and we don't think that we’re going to be perfect in every situation all the time. We learn to roll with life a bit.”

Rolling with it: perhaps the most true-to-life solution to the age-old question of how to achieve work-life balance. 

The Matriarchs, by DDB Sydney

A campaign for Carefree released in October 2017, ‘The Matriarchs’ featured four outspoken, charismatic older women promoting period products by speaking very freely—the films were unscripted—about their own experiences. “Meet the matriarchs. They may not get periods anymore but do have plenty to say about life, love, dating and our Carefree products”, ran the strapline.

The winner of a Glass Spike Award for Change, the campaign scored:

  • 65 million impressions
  • A 28% lift in ad recall according to a YouTube Brand Lift study 
  • A 28.89% sales uplift from ‘heavy shoppers’

“It was all about empowering women to be themselves, and about having that confidence to be their version of feminine,” says Ford. “I think the older you get you really don't care what other people think so much. You usually say what you think and you're usually pretty open, you've worked out who you are as a person. I think that felt like a really interesting, good kind of area to show younger women what they could be.”

Was it awkward talking about periods at work? The original team working on the campaign consisted of a man and a woman, says Ford, who swiftly learnt to be very open: “They do joke about the fact that they got over saying the word ‘discharge’ quite quickly.” The stars of the ad themselves, who were chosen after a long casting process, had fewer qualms. “We were absolutely pinching ourselves on the day as they were talking,” says Ford. “They were great to work with. They were everything we wanted them to be, which was open, and kind of hilarious and just so confident and happy to be themselves.”



Campaign's Women Leading Change 

We'll be discussing gender equality and attitudes towards women in media and marketing at our annual Women Leading Change conference in Singapore on 4 June, 2019.

Register your interest and find out more about entering our Women Leading Change Awards (early bird entry deadline: 8 March) at www.womenleadingchange.asia.

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