35: "The Cyber-Feminist" - Laura Jordan-Bambach

Laura JB[3912].jpeg

"The Cyber-Feminist"

My conversation with Laura Jordan-Bambach - the Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Mr President/SheSays She describes the early part of her career as a cyber-feminist-code-hacking artist. Today, she is the Chief Creative Officer and partner of one of London’s most influential agencies, Mr President. She co-founded SheSays, the Great British Diversity Experiment and the Cannt Festival and she was recently named one of the BBC's top 100 innovators.


Three Takeaways

  • The determination to define yourself on your own terms before other people define you. 
  • A relentless curiosity for what else is possible.
  • The intention to leave a legacy. 

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 35: "The Cyber Feminist" Laura Jordan-Bambach

Charles:               

You're listening to Fearless, where we explore the art and science of leading creativity, that unpredictable amorphous and invaluable resource, that's critical to every modern business. Each week, we talk to leaders who are jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm, and blowing up the status quo. Leaders who have mastered the art of turning the impossible into the profitable. This episode was recorded in London, at the Eurobest Festival, which is now in its 30th year, highlighting, celebrating, and rewarding the best of European creativity. Visit eurobest.com for more information.

Today, I'm talking to Laura Jordan Bambach, the chief creative officer, and co-founder of Mr President/SheSays. She describes the early part of her career as a cyber feminist code-hacking artist. Today, she is the chief creative officer and partner of one of London's most influential agencies, Mr President. She co-founded SheSays, The Great British Diversity Experiment, and The Cannt Festival. And, she was recently named one of the BBC's top 100 innovators.

This is our second live podcast from Eurobest, live, literally live, so we are surrounded by people streaming in and out of the festival. I am thrilled today to be joined by Laura Jordan Bambach. I think I mispronounced her name when I prerecorded my intro, so if I don't rerecord that, that is actually the correct pronunciation. Anyway, Laura, welcome to Fearless.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Thank you.

Charles:               

Thank you so much for being here and agreeing to do this.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Thanks for having me.

Charles:               

I know you listen to the show.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes.

Charles:               

So at the risk you having gamed this answer, I'm gonna ask you the question I quite often start with, was, when did creativity first show up for you in your life?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think creativity for me, it's been with me all my life. It is both kind of a passion, and I think also an escape. One of my very, very first memories ... actually, it's probably a little bit embarrassing, is that, when I was very small, when I was about three, and I had two younger siblings, and I had really a lot of problems going to the bathroom, which I think apparently is very Freudian.

And so, I went to the hospital. And they took me to some kind of psychologist, and I had to keep what's called a poo book. And the poo book was, if I was good and I went to the bathroom that day, I was allowed to draw in my book. I could have stickers. I could write stories. If I didn't, I got a big red cross through the page, and I wasn't allowed to touch a pen, or any stickers, or anything for the day.

And so actually for me, weirdly, I think it became part of my internal reward system. I know that's a really weird story, but it's true.

Charles:               

Talk about expressing yourself!

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

The truest definition or the total definition. Good grief. That's extraordinary. And I can see how that might change one's behavior, I would think.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

And you were showing me just before we started, your left arm, in fact.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes.

Charles:               

Clearly your son is highly creative, because you are allowing him to ... Well, you explain it, so that [inaudible]

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. So it actually started a couple of years ago. He was playing up at school. The teacher called me in and said, you know, he's playing up at school. It's obvious he's doing it when you're not around, because I travel at lot for work. He cries at school, and he says that I don't miss him as much as he misses me.

And so we sat and had a conversation, and I guess it's a creative solution to that problem. I said, "Yes. I absolutely miss you to death. So, if I travel for a week or longer, you get to draw whatever you like on my arm. And I'll get a tattoo. And that shows you that me being away kind of affects me as well," which fixed his behavioural problems, which is amazing, but also it's quite a fun thing that we share now.

Charles:               

So it literally fixed his behavioral problem?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

Like, he now genuinely believes that you miss him as much as he misses you?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. I think so. I mean, I'm sure the conversations we had around it, I'm sure were part of the fixing, but tried to find a solution that worked for me, as a working mother, did make me feel guilty about the fact that I have a job that requires me not to be around quite a lot, so ...

Charles:               

What an extraordinary brilliant solution. I have to say, my father traveled endlessly when I was growing up. I mean, crazy amounts. I'm not sure he would have agreed to have his arm tattooed. He's still around. Maybe I'll ask him.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

What did you study in school when you were growing up? Well, first of all, you're Australian, originally.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I am.

Charles:               

Not originally. You are Australian.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I am Australian.

Charles:               

You're Australian.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Hu-huh.

Charles:               

You grew up in Australia.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes.

Charles:               

Where abouts?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Born in Canberra. But, really grew up in Sydney.

Charles:               

And were drawn to what in school?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Actually, I was a total maths and science nerd. Like, really, really heavily into maths. And very heavily into science, which meant that I actually went to a selective school, just for kind of maths and the sciences, but I had an amazing art teacher. And I was always really torn between the scientific and the artistic. So, tried to play both of those parallel things, I guess, while I was at school quite a lot. But, I still absolutely love science and mathematics. I think it's ...

Charles:               

And you were encouraged to pursue both?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Charles:               

And then university took you to where? In terms of ...

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. I mean, at the time that I went to university, I got really good grades, and I think my parents actually expected me, probably to ... well, I think they expected me to do something creative, but maybe with a bit of a scientific edge. You know, we were talking about whether it was industrial design, or something where I could use both of those skills.

But being probably 17 and wanting to kind of break out on my own, I went to art school. And again, my parents were incredibly supportive. They kind of shop me around with my portfolio, got into a really interesting art school, and I started really in the painting department. But within six months, was incredibly frustrated about how they taught painting. It was very rigid. I just remember the first thirteen weeks of my university, we had to paint the same three objects, so a sphere, a pyramid, and a cube, on a plinth.

They were all white. We had to do it in black and white. And then a warm color and white. And then a cool color and white. And then a warm and a cool color in white. And then, in realistic colors. And when the realistic colors bit came up, I was so frustrated, I just painted it the way I wanted. Got screamed at by my lecturer, told I was a colorist.

Charles:               

A colorist?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes. "We have a colorist amongst us." And I went, "Oh. Okay." And at the time, actually, I just thought, "Okay. This isn't for me." And I was doing Photomedia which is a mixture of photography and computing, because they didn't know where to put computers in the early 1990s. So it's kind of part of the photography department. I was doing that as my minor.

It was the only thing I could pick up without losing credit points. So I went, "Okay. I'll go into that department." And ended up being one of two people studying, I guess, sort of digital art.

Charles:               

In school, you're focused on maths.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Hu-huh.

Charles:               

And then you get to university, and you suddenly switch to art. I know you've done both.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes.

Charles:               

What made that switch happen? Why did you suddenly draw such a definitive line and change focus?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Well, I mean, I think it was ... I had a dual focus the whole way through school. So I did a three ... you know, in Australia, it's called three unit art. It's like an A Level plus another extra level of art, as well as kind of doing the maths and sciences. But I just really was drawn to the free expression, to the ... I guess, to the exploration that you can have in art. I know you can also have that in science. But, just that kind of free expression, free exploration, was really exciting.

Charles:               

So you've really got a real combination of left and right brain qualities.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: Yeah. I would say so. And I think that's why, when I actually fell into the Photomedia department, I suddenly went, "Oh. Computer art. That's really interesting." And that's actually where kind of the foundations of my career came from.

Charles:               

How did you get involved in the professional world as you came out of university?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I was doing a lot of programming, like, learning a lot of software, making a lot of really silly animations. And I was very passionately a feminist, and the cyber feminist movement was really big then. And in Australia, there was this amazing woman called Rosie Cross. She ran something called geekgirl. There'd been kind of a few iterations of geekgirl. It was what's called a hyperzine. It was a magazine and a website.

And this is in 1994. So very, very, early on. And I met her, had the opportunity to meet her one day. I've got a big tattoo of a spider web on my stomach, like an escher tessellation. And she saw it, and she said, you know, "That's the web, the world wide web. Can we take a picture of it for the magazine?" I went, "Absolutely." And then she called me, and said, "Oh. The person taking the pictures dropped out. We're not going to be able to use it.

And I said, "Well, I can a picture." I studied photography at university. And so, I took a picture of it. And then, she said, "The person designing the magazine has dropped out. We're not going to do an issue this month." And I went, "I could design a magazine." I couldn't. I did it all in Photoshop. Like, completely the wrong way round. And then she just said, "Look, anything you learn to do, I'll give you an outlet for."

I became kind of her creative director. I did all the programming for the site. And again, did all the animations, and the advanced Flash stuff. And that kind of was where my portfolio came from. I was just really attracted to the web, because with the web, as an artist, you've got this inbuilt audience of the whole world. So it's a really interesting place, if you're very political, to kind of go and play and try to change people's minds. That was what really excited me about it.

Charles:               

Where did your feminist sensibility come from?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

You know what, I have always had it. I remember very clearly when I was maybe about eight, my dad bringing me home a sticker from work, saying "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman." But I have always been ... I don't know. Like, I was the only girl in an entire Boys football league when I was growing up. I wanted to join The Scouts, not The Girl Guides. I was just really, kind of ...

Charles:               

Did they let you join The Scouts?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

No. But, my dad went to the local council, and kind of lobbied for me to join The Scouts, which I really ... so, just, you know, that support that you could be whatever you wanted to be, and do whatever you wanted to do, was really powerful.

Charles:               

Yeah. I mean, extraordinary influence, I would imagine, to have your father stand up for your rights to such a powerful extreme.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, my parents are awesome, actually. What could I say?

Charles:               

And still alive?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

And sill alive.

Charles:               

In Australia still?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

In Australia still. Yeah.

Charles:               

How often do you go to see them?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Not as often as I'd like. I get home, I don't know, like once every two, three years. Something like that.

Charles:               

Wow.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

And then they kind of make it over when they can.

Charles:               

What did your parents do?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

They're both retired now. My mum has been a private secretary to ... She works a lot in government. She worked for the federal government for the minister of defense. She's worked for local councils. My dad was in the Air Force, for a long time. And then, has had numerous business jobs since then.

He's also ... There's something in Australia called the Rural Fire Service, which looks after bush fires, and care accidents in the countryside, and what have you. And they live in a very rural area. And so he for a long time, as well, was the flight coordinator. He was coordinate where the water-bombing planes and helicopters and stuff went.

Charles:               

Oh my God.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

So it's kind of ... Yeah. Kind of interesting.

Charles:               

Sounds like an extraordinary man.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

So you've got a foothold in the professional world. You've found an outlet for your incredibly diverse set of skills. What was the next step?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Everything I did was self-taught. I never studied design. I never studied advertising. I just knew that I wanted to communicate, and I really believed in the power of creativity to kind of change the world.

Charles:               

Had you seen examples of that growing up?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

That's a really good question. I don't remember anything off the top of my head, except that I just always had this incredible belief in this drive that creativity could really make a better future. And so, sort of working with Rosie, and picking up more skills there. I then started my own business, because actually I realized as well, there was a huge gap in the market at the time, for people who could make digital things.

So I set up my own business called Joystick Digital Media, which was kind of a bit of a piss-take on all the willy-swishing that there is out there, where I would go into most of the advertising agencies who would have created something maybe in Photoshop. And they'd go, "How do I get this thing onto that thing?"

So I would resize everything, code everything. It was all by hand at the time. There was nothing to help you, so it was all done in notepad. Build their sites, upload them. Charge them enough money to pay for my Masters degree, really. 

Charles:               

And what did you study in your Masters degree?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

The same.

Charles:               

The same thing.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

So, Master of Fine Art and Digital Arts. Yeah.

Charles:               

When did you make the move to England?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I made the move to England in 2001. At the time I was actually working for Deepend in Sydney, which is an amazing digital agency that was started here in the UK. They had branches all over the world. It was before the dotcom crash. They were the coolest agency, I think, in the world for digital stuff. And I'd landed this job after much trying, because again, I wasn't trained in anything. So it was a little bit of a wild card.

Charles:               

You wanted to work there?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I absolutely wanted to work there. I used to teach at my old university. I was teaching undergraduate degree. And this speaker came, Simon Waterfall. I don't know whether you've ever met him?

Charles:               

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

He's phenomenal, and another really incredible mentor of mine. He came to speak to my students. And he was wearing a dress. And he was showing the most incredible work I've ever seen, like, compared to anything I'd ever seen in Australia. And I thought, I wanna work for you. And so I said to him afterwards, like, I want to work for you.

And he really worked me hard. Like, every time he'd come to Australia, he'd check my portfolio. He'd tell me what I needed to improve on. And then finally I was good enough to go and work in his business. And I worked there for a while in Sydney. And then transferred to London. Like, literally four months before the Crash happened. And the company went under, unfortunately. It still exists in Australia.

Charles:               

Oh, wow.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

But, pretty much everywhere else, it went under.

Charles:               

What made you wanna move here?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I fell in love with someone in a band. I don't understand, like, I'm totally impetuous. But, no. I met someone backstage at a festival, who is in a relatively well-known band here in the UK. And, we had a long-distance relationship for a long time, and it became apparent that one of us should move. And he couldn't move. So I moved.

Yeah. Again, Simon, bless him, I just emailed him, and basically said, "I've fallen in love with this guy in a band. Can you move me to your London office?" And he did. He sorted everything out for me.

Charles:               

Wow. And how was the adjustment to London?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

You know what, it was really hard. You think that there's no cultural difference between Australia and London, or Australia and the UK, but it is so incredibly different. I remember my first night here, I found ... I just thought, it's just like Sydney with a bit more shit. It's like dirtier ... People are really unfriendly. It took me probably a good three years to get my head around it.

Charles:               

How many?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Probably three years ...

Charles:                Wow.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

... before I really felt like I fitted in. Yeah.

Charles:               

What was the hardest part?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think part of it is when you go to art school, and you grow up in that culture, and I had a like really interesting time. I lived in a shared warehouse space. We had a gallery inside. We had ... you know, we're always having these kind of amazing artistic happenings. And it was very inspirational, and really collaborative, and full of energy.

And then to come here, where you don't have that network and that energy, and try to find it again, I think, was really difficult, because everything felt very serious and quite kind of somber. And the dotcom crash happened, as well, and suddenly a load of people I knew were out of work. And everyone was really struggling.

Charles:               

Where you tempted to go back?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

You know what, no. Not really. I always thought there'd be something interesting and exciting just round the corner, if I just kind of stuck with it.

Charles:               

And did the relationship last?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

For a little while. For a little while, but not for ...

Charles:               

Not long-term.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

For a couple of years, two or three years. Something like that.

Charles:               

Tell me about how your professional life evolved from there.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. I was very fortunate in retrospect that I had found another job about a week before the company went under, at an amazing agency called Lateral, which was, I don't know, it's kind of like 30 digital pirates. It was run by some incredible, really interesting people, who really believed in like proper anarchist principles, true collaboration. All 30 people got a say in what business we took on. It's a very exciting place to work.

And we were doing really exciting work. So all the digital work for Levi's, kinda back in the day. You know, when Flat Eric was happening, we were doing all the digital stuff to that. It was kind of an amazing family, I think, to grow up in, and to learn what I was good at. And also, to kind of work a little bit without a safety net.

Charles:               

And what did you take away from there in terms of your own recognition about what makes a great creative business?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think the ability to listen to everyone within the business, and actually the feeling that everyone was honestly a part of the story. Again, it's wonderfully energizing, you know, people would walk over hot coals. You would be there however long you needed to be there. But, also, if you fucked-up you were kind of in a safe space to do that, as well. I think some of those principles ... I mean, I also learnt maybe some of the stuff about what not to do, because it was pretty mad.

Charles:               

Such as?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Sometimes having too many cooks, and not being able to get to a decision. And I was given an awful lot of freedom, but maybe before I was maybe ready for all of that freedom. So, you know, like, fucked-up some projects, properly, without anyone kind of stopping me along the way, which was a good learning experience.

Charles:               

What do you think, just to slightly jump around, is the right balance in terms of hierarchy versus freedom in a creative organization, a creative business?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

That's a really good question. Look, I think you need leadership. But that's different to hierarchy. And I think when I see a lot of the more traditional creative businesses, of which I've now been part of some, but have always been a little bit of an antithesis to, I guess. When I see those really hierarchical businesses and that very kind of strict way of ruling a department or an agency, you don't see the best work coming out of there.

I'm a real believer in, I guess, clear enablement. As a leader, my job is to give clarity to the team. Obviously, as a creative director, you need to make sure people are pointed in one direction, because otherwise it's very confusing for people. But, to allow other people to rise to the top. I'm much more of the kind of leadership from underneath, rather than leadership top-down kind of person.

Charles:               

I was talking somebody, actually not on the podcast, probably a couple of years ago now, who runs what I would describe as a very collaborative company. I mean, they are really built around strong collaboration instincts. And they had discovered that when the groups that where assembled were all male, they could be pretty decisive. When the groups that were assembled were male and female, they were pretty decisive.

Charles:               

But when the groups that were assembled were all female, that those groups had a really hard time bringing stuff to a conclusion, because everybody was so respectful and deferential to each other, that nobody was willing to step forward and make a decision. Does that resonate for you? Could you see that trait, or do you think that's anomaly?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

No. Look, I think that we would all agree that women are kind of culturally conditioned to please other people. And it's a habit that you have to try to break. And although it's endemic across the board in women, actually I think it was probably a benefit of me being Australian, coming to the UK, because we're a much more straight forward culture.

Actually, I felt I could be a lot more forceful here, than probably some of my female counterparts maybe who have kind of grown up in this culture here, which is very, very quiet. It's very polite. I found it so difficult even to understand what feedback meant when I first moved here. Someone would say, "Yeah, it's kind of, sort of, right. You just have to do this little thing." And they meant, "The piece of work is shit. Do it again."

Back home, I was used to people going, "I'm really sorry mate, that's a piece of shit. Do it again." And that's fine. And you don't take it personally. But, that cultural difference actually is one thing that, I think, served me really well professionally here.

Charles:               

Did you have to modulate that at all? I mean, how did you apply that?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

No. Again, because I was just starting out here, I wasn't in a position of leadership when I came, at all. I was really in ...

Charles:               

So you watched it. You saw it.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. So I watched it. I saw it. And I tried to understand it, because actually it was really detrimental to my own work. So I would be tweaking things round the edges, when actually I needed to go back to the beginning and try a different path. Yeah. It took a little bit of time to learn the lingo.

Charles:               

It takes a lot of self-awareness to actually recognize this work isn't good enough through your own lens.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that just comes with experience, really.

Charles:               

What was the next move for you, professionally?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

After Lateral, I had kind of a year at sort of a funny agency that didn't really work for me. And then I was wondering what to do, because I was really unhappy. I think you can just be in the wrong place regardless of what your work is like, or who you are. You can just end up in the wrong place.

 

And so [inaudible] wondering where to go next, and went to Glue. The agency Glue was actually one of the break-offs of Deepend. There were a few here. So Poke was some of the people from Deepend. Glue was some of the people from Deepend. They're a couple of others. I was talking to Mark Cridge, who again, is an amazing mentor, about the next move. And he said, "Look, there's a Head of Art job going at Glue. Come in." Like, he didn't wanna be part of the interview process, because he wanted to make sure that I could do the job. I went in there. Did about nine hours worth of interviews, I think, and presentations, and what have you.

Charles:               

Nine hours?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think so. All in all. And got the job, which was phenomenal. Again, it was a small agency at the time, I think it was about 25 people. It was pre them being bought, pre them turning into Isobar, pre them having the world domination in a way that they have now. And, it felt like family, again, to me. And that sense of camaraderie is really important, I think, where it's really important to me to have that sense of friendship with people at work.

I worked as Head of Art there for quite a long time. And they were amazingly support. Again, I learnt so many new tricks there. It's where I started SheSays actually, because there it was very difficult to hire women into the departments then, particularly design, technology, those kinds of areas. It was almost impossible to find women in the industry. And you think it's 50/50 at college, you know, where an earth do they go, because they're not applying for jobs, not even junior jobs, which is why I co-founded SheSays with Ale, because she was having the same problem at her agency. 

Charles:               

We'll come back to SheSays in a second. You've mentioned a couple of times, actually two things you've mentioned a couple of times that I'm curious to pick up on. One is, you talked about an environment that felt like a family. Talk to us a little bit about what that looks like and feels like, because I hear other people talking about that, and I think sometimes it goes too far because it becomes a little bit enabling.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yes. Yes.

Charles:               

Alright. If you take it too far.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:               

And I suggested to some people that thinking about like a team is probably better, because family members don't tend to get fired. Well, [inaudible]

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

That's true.

Charles:               

They do occasionally, in my experience. But [inaudible] justification.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. I see your point, but there are, I guess, certain aspects being a family in terms of like really going above and beyond for ... potentially for each other, but actually for the quality of the work.

Charles:               

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

The thing that ran alongside it always is this complete obsession with the quality of the work. It has to be the best work. It has to be the most interesting expressive work that we can possibly do. And everyone had that same desire. So really in both places there was no room for people kind of slacking off.

And they were quite small. So there's no room for people slacking off in the corner. If you're not performing, then you're not performing, and it's very, very obvious. But, the things that make it feel like a family, is that the real trust and respect for each other ...

Charles:               

Mm.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

... which you don't see, again, at more hierarchical agencies. You tend to develop this kind of weird parent-child relationship, where you're either trying to please your boss, or the boss is kind of dictating, whether it's your hours, or the ways of working. And you don't get that really exciting energy that is the energy that you need to create the very, very best work.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that's well put. The other you've mentioned a couple of times, is the number of mentors that you've had. Were you looking for mentors, consciously, or did they just show up in your life, and you were receptive to them?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

They showed up in my life and I was receptive to them. And I just have an enormous passion for learning. I just was drawn to people that I really admired and respected, and took that step and went and spoke to them, and formed a relationship with them that way. And they have been amazing.

Charles:               

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Such an important part of career development, and actually life development, I think.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Charles:               

Talk to us about SheSays. Why did you decide that, that was the thing you needed to do, and why then?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Ale and I knew each other, because ...

Charles:               

Ale Lariu, this is.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Ale Lariu, whose now in New York. We knew each other because we were partly the only two women who would ever appear on stage at industry events. It would be like, "Oh. Hi, woman," "Hi, other woman," in a sea of men. And then, also there's an amazing organization called Creative Socials, which just brought senior (at the time) digital talent together, to try to work together and to improve the industry, and what have you.

So her and I were also with Fernanda Romano (who you might know), were the original three women in that crew. She was running her agency. I was running my agency in our sort of respective roles. And trying to hire women into the departments. And the digital industry was starting to boom again, and there were loads of interesting things happening, and we knew that there were all of these incredible women at design school, art school, you know, advertising. But they were not applying for jobs. As I said, not even at the most junior level. And so we ...

Charles:               

And this ... Or why was that?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Well, this is the thing. We kind of sat down and went, well, why is this? And why when women do apply for jobs are they so impossible, that kind of selling themselves compared to a guy with exactly the same experience. We really didn't know what to do. The first thing we did was to bring a bunch of people together to discuss, like, what the problems might be, and how we might solve it.

And we brought about 15, 20 women together at an agency called Dare. We sat for a few hours, and we talked about the issues, and actually what came out of that, was that network, because you are often the only women, woman in creative department, or design department, or what have you. That network was really special.

So then we did it again the following month. And we talked about what progress we'd made, and what conversations we'd had, and more women wanted to come, because they wanted that networking. And we went, "Okay. We've found something interesting here that maybe we didn't expect to." And before too long, we were running monthly events.

The point of the monthly events isn't to talk about the problem of the lack of women, it's to inspire women, give them new skills, teach them about trends. Help them learn how to ask for a pay rise. All of the practical things. Whether they're creative things, or to do with the workplace, that will allow women to kind of progress through the industry.

And we've always made the events free, so that students can come along. We've had really great connections with all universities to try to pull women up and through and into agencies here. So it started tiny. And then when Ale went to New York, she started in New York. Then we were London and New York. And it's just over the last kind of eight years or so, exploded. So I think we're now in ... including Auckland, because I had Auckland sign up last week. We're in 42 cities around the world.

Charles:               

42!

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

And about 22 countries.

Charles:               

That's fantastic. Congratulations. That's extraordinary. And what have you learned?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

The power of a franchise kind of model, where you are doing it to create change, not to create wealth. So everyone that works for SheSays is a volunteer. The only way that new cities open up is because someone has probably been to an event in another city, and has gone, "God. That's really great. I want it in my city."

We have like a framework for them to take and work with. We've got a global mailing list. We've got the website. We've got a few kind of rules and regulations to keep people vaguely in the same space. And then it's up to the women in their own cities to run it as they see fit. And run it the way that it's gonna benefit the women in the city the best. So ...

Charles:               

And do you share knowledge across the network?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, I've got a great friend of mine, Kerrie, who I think you might speak to at some point. So she runs ...

Charles:               

Kerrie Finch.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Kerrie Finch. She runs SheSays in Amsterdam. We've got Abu Dhabi just starting up, which is phenomenal. You know, they need something very different to what we need here in London. And each, SheSays is a different level of maturity. Here our event's really big. It's really well run. We've got a big mentoring scheme, as part of what we do as well, which we put a couple of hundred people a year through the mentoring scheme for free.

Charles:               

And the focus on that is what?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

It's actually very broad, because women need help at all levels of their career progression. And they need all sorts of different things, so we've got a team here that places the right mentors with the right mentees, regardless of their seniority. Some people are almost getting what I'd say is like NED support, like non-executive director support, because they're off doing their own businesses or start-ups and they want someone with a bit more experience.

And then at the other end, you've got students who just wanna know how to get into the industry, and how to work best, and we've got people for them as well. That's a real mission for us over the next 12 months, is how do we grow that globally.

Charles:               

And are there themes that have emerged for you in terms of what is most valuable for women to learn and understand about their own career development?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

One of the biggest things is actually you can't underestimate that networking and mentoring.

Charles:               

Mm.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Just being around other women, and having other women more senior than you, or doing different things to you, being visible. When we first started, people used to laugh at us, because we've made a rule, more or less, that most of the speakers, if not all the speakers, in all the different cities are women.

And when we first started, we'd have people laughing at us going, "But you're gonna run out of women." And, you know what, we haven't run out of women. They are there, they're just not often given that opportunity to take the stage. I think giving those opportunities to women is really valuable as well. So the opportunity to talk about your work, not just about being a woman is incredibly important.

Charles:               

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

And then I guess some of the things that have come out. You know, there are the classic things that need to be solved, like, presentation skills, or finding that inner confidence, because it is harder, I think, for a lot of women, to do those kinds of things.

But then also things that work really well are ... We run something in London called Horror Stories every Halloween, where women come up and talk about the projects that they've massively fucked-up. And that gets a huge amount of positive response, because other women can see, like you can make a total mess, and it's okay, and your career isn't gonna derail, and you don't have to be afraid of failure. You can kind of embrace it, and go with it, and it'll take you to an interesting place.

Charles:               

A woman actually gave me one of the best pieces of career advice I've ever had. She said to me early in my production days, "It's not how bad you fuck it up. It's how well you fix it."

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. You know what, I think I'm absolutely passionate about just pushing yourself into uncharted territory. I've always kind of thrown myself in at the deep end, and gone, "I probably can't really do that job, but I'm gonna go for it anyway," or "That project. I have no idea how to make that, but I'm gonna try to make it anyway."

And sometimes it works and it's brilliant. And sometimes it's horrible, but you get through it, and you grow. And I think that the fear of failure is one of the big things that holds creativity back.

Charles:               

So tell us about Mr President. What made you decide you wanted a, after this journey, decided you wanted to start your own company?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

My two business partners, actually, Claire and Nick, had already started going on that journey a little bit. They had worked together for a very long time. They had an interesting opportunity with a global client to kind of go in and help to change the client from the inside. And they were looking for a third partner. At the time I was ... I won't say stuck, I was at an agency that was going through quite a lot of difficulty.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

And I was really passionate about trying to make it better, but realized that the advertising landscape had fundamentally changed. And particularly in digital. I think digital used to be ... The thing I loved about it, was the experimentation. Trying things that had never happened before. Feeling a bit like a pirate on the advertising sea, if you know what I mean. You know, not part of the status quo.

And what I was really feeling uncomfortable about is how kind of monotonous and how part of the status quo a lot of digital advertising had become. I was really quite unhappy. I was still doing some amazing projects, but more and more of what I was doing was not ... I would say it was like crap to add to the world of crap, right. It was of no creative value to me. It was actually of no value to the customer. It was no value to the client, but because you work on efficiencies and the costs are really low, you can kind of pump out a whole load of shit. And, you know, some of it will stick.

I thought the writing's on the wall for a lot of the things that I used to love. And I need to do something a little bit different. And then, the opportunity to work with Clair and Nick came along, and to really do something different. And to take the things that I love about digital, which is, you know, it was the lack of hierarchy, the lack of ego. The real understanding of customers, which I don't think traditional agencies necessarily had.

So working with experienced planners all my life, rather than brand planners meant that the most important thing was always like really getting under the skin of the minutiae of what made people tick, because in digital your focus is to remove friction, and to create something that people find delightful, rather than necessarily being confrontational or funny, or what have you.

And those are also skills, which you need to have. And so to able to take that bit of the digital world and combine it with then, an amazing team of creatives that come from all sorts of different places, including the traditional kind of places, and smashing that together. Yeah. It's quite exciting.

Charles:               

What are the values that you live by? When you started the company, what did you decide were the things that were gonna be important to you in terms of how you ran it?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

The very first thing is not to make that crap work. You know, never to make a piece of work that is of no value. And we ...

Charles:               

And as you look back, have you been able to [live to inaudible] that?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Absolutely. 100%. It's really nice to work somewhere where there is no like, dirty client sitting in the corner, that we do just for the money. We do it all because we believe in the client, and their products. And they're great people, and they believe that marketing's changed, and you need to change along with it.

Charles:               

I should add for those who were not able to see the expression on your face when you said a 100%. You meant at least a 100% and maybe more than that.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

Yes.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think that's something that we're incredibly committed to. And it's what's makes it a joy to go to work for everyone, I think, every day. And it's what gets you through the hard times, right, because you're doing something you believe in.

I think we have a very strong kind of ethical [inaudible 00:38:54] and moral compass. I think all of us really ... Again, we've found a crew of people that really believe in this power of creativity to change the world, not necessarily for social good, but for the good of the brand. And then I think there's a really strong belief. Like I was saying, that the whole world of marketing and communications advertising is ... has just changed, and our audience has just changed, and that there are really interesting ways by combining digital and traditional and other talents, that you can get to really interesting places, that still allow brands to sing.

Charles:               

When you started your own business, what did you think that was going to be like, and how has it turned out to be different than that?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Well look, I think the first thing that you learn, because I ... When I started my first business, when I was at university, really it was just me and my brother whose like an amazing like hardcore developer. And he was only there some of the time. So it wasn't really a business in the true sense.

I guess when we started Mr P, the first thing that you learn ... First of all, you go, "Oh my God. I've started my own business. I can do whatever I like." And then you realize, you know, and I can put this thing in place, and that thing in place, and then you realize, actually the one thing you do as a business owner, is you're in the service to the people that work for you. And actually ...

Charles:               

Yeah. It's a staffing reality, isn't it?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

You get all of this power and you go, "But I have to give all the power away."

Charles:               

Yes.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

There is no power.

Charles:               

I think it's about 60 hours right after you start the business, you think, I'm working for myself, before you realize, no, you're not.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Exactly. I can do whatever I like. No I can't.

Charles:               

No. [Indeed inaudible]

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I think, that was quite a big learning. Yeah.

Charles:               

What have you learned about yourself?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Ooh. I've learnt much more clearly what I will and won't do. I think when you're driving the bus, and you can't rely on anyone else to kind of make those decisions, it's very easy to go, "Well, that decision was made." Even at a very senior level. Even as an ECD, you can kind of go along with, well, that decisions made, and I can't influence it. When there's no one else there, and you're absolutely, absolutely accountable, it makes you really question what you will and won't do, and what's important to you.

Charles:               

What will and what will you not do?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

I won't make a piece of shit work. Yeah. And I won't work ... Oh. What else? I mean, it really comes down to that. Like I just don't want to be making work that I don't believe in.

Charles:               

And when you're hiring people, what are you looking for in terms of qualities? And what are you not prepared to put up with?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

In terms of qualities, I think that like a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I think you need to have that as a small business. And that should be encouraged. And, I think, the more people are doing things outside of work, the more focused they are in work, and the more connected they are to the world. And the more interesting ideas that they have. So looking for people who are interested in things, who aren't just there to do a nine-to-six, or even a nine-to-eleven advertising job, but are kind of explorers, I guess.

Charles:               

And what do you not put up with?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Laziness. And that's not to say that people are working a thousand hours a day, because they're absolutely not. People that don't care, I think. Yeah.

Charles:               

You are here, I know, talking on a panel this afternoon about ... You'll describe it better than I, but sort of variable hours, variable sort of creativity beyond the nine-to-five world. Explain how you bring that to life for the company?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. So we're very passionate about ... You know, creativity is a 24-hour process. There is so much research into how creativity works, and it is not sitting at your desk. You need the subconscious. You need other experiences. You need things to kind of feed in. And so we have very flexible structure at Mr President.

Most people tend to work at work anyway, because the atmosphere is good. And because we're very collaborative, and we like to share. But, if you feel like you need to be somewhere else, to be inspired, or if you need to kind of work in the evenings instead of during the day on a project ... You know, everyone's very respectful, because we've created that culture, I guess, of respect, where everyone is an adult.

You end up being at work when you need to be at work. And if you don't need to be at work, and you feel like you need to be somewhere else, you can. And it's also very flexible in terms of working around peoples' other commitments, be that, children or something else that's going on, say, running a marathon, or whatever it is, to kind of honor people as whole people, not just as people at work.

Charles:               

Does that create a self-selection? I mean, do you discover more quickly people that are suited to working there, and people that just can't make that work for you or for them?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. I think so. And actually I think that's something, which I would like to explore more, is like, how do you accommodate, sometimes, people who do have different ways of working, because certainly I think any business ends up kind of self-selecting. But certainly, everyone that we have, I would say, we've got the best creative department. And the best agency in London in terms of the people. Everyone's really smart, really energetic. But I think there is a bit of self-selection in there, for sure.

Charles:               

And have you learnt to be more accepting and open to different idiosyncrasies, in terms of the way people show up?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I think the one thing that you need to kind of keep sacred, is if you need to be there for a particular thing, you need to be there. But, right from the top-down, from my business partners, all the way to the guys in the creative department ... They're on placement at the moment. To be able to give people a bit of flexibility is really important.

Charles:               

And as you roll forward a year from now, where do you wanna be Christmas 2018?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Oh. That's a good question. You know what, one of the reasons for starting this business is because I absolutely love what we do, and I don't want that to be dampened by process, or by ambitions to grow really big, or ... I think we've got a really amazing solid team, and actually my ambition is just to do better work, and to grow and be more successful through better work. Yeah. It's all about the work.

Charles:               

And what are you afraid of?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

You know what, I think there are a couple of things that, not necessarily afraid of, but that keep me awake at night. One of which is just the changing nature of the industry. The fact that in London, particularly, there are hardly any independent agencies left. Particularly not that scale. So you've got Wiedens, and you've got RGA, which is great. But, at our kind of level, most people have been bought out, or they've died.

And that is kind of indicative of the market and the corporatization of what it is that we do. You've got procurement deals to deal with. And you've got insane salaries that, you know ... There's a bunch of stuff that as an independent we can't do, but what we can offer is like 100% great work.

Charles:               

Is being independent important to you?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah. It just allows us to make decisions that otherwise we couldn't make. We have just done a really beautiful piece of work for Stonewall, which is the biggest LGBT charity here in the UK. It's their first campaign in 10 years. It wasn't necessarily ... I need to word this in the right way, so you're gonna have to edit this bit. I don't know. I can't really say it was for free, but it was for free. So working for Stonewall, which is the biggest LGBT charity here in the UK.

And I guess, the financial rewards from working with them are very limited, but the creative opportunity ... More importantly, the emotional opportunity from working with them, and actually creating positive change in the world, is huge. And if we had been part of a big network, or if we had been a bigger business, and had more accountability to the powers that be, we probably couldn't have taken it on, and taken it on with as much passion as what we did.

It's been a year-long program to get to exactly the right thing, which has been enormously rewarding for us, but it's worked really well, as well. It's been incredibly effective for them as a charity. But we didn't have to put it in and out of the office really quickly, because we couldn't afford to run it. We just took that hit.

Charles:               

What do you think people will be surprised to know about you that they don't already know?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

[inaudible] I would say that I'm a trained taxidermist, but I think it's ...

Charles:               

Are you?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

... I think it's on the internet. Yeah. I am. A trained taxidermist.

Charles:               

I'm not sure I'm gonna ask about how that came about.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

It's actually a story of total laziness. When I first moved out of home, my house was very close to my art college, and the only store in-between my home and the art college was a taxidermist shop, called Animal Fetish. And so I went in to see if I could get a job behind the counter, and he said, "I don't need anyone behind the counter, but I need someone to help me stuff the animals." So he trained me, and I worked there for a good couple of years, I think.

Charles:               

Good grief. Have you carried any of those skills forward? [inaudible].

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

No. No. I'm afraid they're not massively useful.

Charles:               

Totally separate skills that.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

Yeah. Well, I hope you never have to go back to doing that again.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Thank you.

Charles:               

As an animal lover, especially.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

As you know, I'd like to wrap every episode, every show with three themes that I've heard. So let me throw these at you.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: Okay.

Charles:               

One is, I think your refusal to be defined by anybody else, and a relentless openness and curiosity to what else you might be capable of, and following your heart and your instincts. I think that there are too few people who are really prepared to do that. There was an article I wrote a few years ago, actually ... In fact, I spoke at Cannes about this, and it's been picked up. The article has been picked up in the last couple of weeks, especially I've noticed.

There as a woman who was a palliative care nurse. She took care of people who were dying, and she wrote an article that described the five regrets of the dying.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Oh, yes. I've read this thing.

Charles:               

Did you read this thing?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah I have.

Charles:               

It's extraordinary, right. And one of the things that people say is, I wish I had marched to my own beat, and not been defined by the people, and I think that you are clearly living to that. Two is, I think, part of that, attached to that, but separately, so is a relentless curiosity for what else might be possible. And so, I think just listening to your narrative about your career path, there is clearly a, "Okay. What else?" "Okay. Great. But what else?"

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Yeah.

Charles:               

And I think that, that's the mark of most great leaders, that they are unwilling to settle for the status quo, both in themselves and in their own businesses.

Charles:               

And then I think third is, a genuine ... I'm not sure I didn't ask you this question. Maybe I should have, but I didn't ask you a question about whether you're interested in leaving a legacy, but you clearly are leaving a legacy. Is that important to you?

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Absolutely. For me and for the business, as well, for Mr President. I think when we started ... We don't say it anymore, but we used to say it. Like, because actually one of the reasons we're called Mr President is because we wanna leave a legacy in the world, and you know, be a little bit more presidential about things. So, yeah. 100%.

Charles:               

It's interesting. I was at a book signing on Saturday, back in New York, and it's a book written by a man called Michael Korda, who is a ... actually become a very well-known historian, and has written extraordinary biographies on a number of great, mostly American leaders. And he's just finished a book on Dunkirk. Michael's English, originally, and lived in England through Dunkirk.

Charles:               

And his family knew Churchill well, and so even as a boy he had access to, and personal connection to him. And obviously talks a lot about Churchill in the book. He was asked the question at the Q&A, "What do you think are the characteristics of some of the best leaders?" And he said, "I think they are conscious of the legacy they want to leave behind." They act in the present in a way that is mindful of how history will judge them. And so, I think that you bring that attribute as well.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Thank you. And I would say, you know, one of the reasons I'm able to do that is because of the mentors and the people that you surround yourself with, because it's very difficult to do that on your own, but you know I've spoke about my parents being incredible, my family is incredible, my work mates are incredible, and the mentors that I've had. And they've all enabled me to be more of myself, and push myself further, because I feel supported, and I think that's something that is so important as a creative leader to make that safe space, to allow other people to be able to be fearless.

Charles:               

I can't wrap it up better than that. Laura, thank you so much for being here.

Laura Jordan-Bambach:

Thank you so much, as well.

Charles:               

I've really enjoyed this.

Laura Jordan-Bambach: Thank you. Me too.

Charles:               

You've been listening to Fearless from Eurobest. If you like what you've heard please take a moment and rate the podcast on iTunes. It makes a big difference. And check out more of the Eurobest content at eurobest.com. Thanks for listening.