Robin Fitzgerald: Patient Resilience

Robin Fitzgerald is the kind of person who causes record-breaking traffic jams... on purpose.

Right after her launch as BBDO’s (first female) Chief Creative Officer, Robin partnered with Street Grace, an Atlanta-based nonprofit fighting domestic minor sex trafficking, to make some noise.

The two put their heads together to orchestrate a wave of 72 buses forming a mile-long moving billboard to educate onlookers about the scope of human trafficking. Yeah, you read that right.

Her project raised awareness ahead of Super Bowl LLI and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, spreading impact on wheels through the streets of ATL. (See more of this here.)

Tackling social issues and making waves of change describe a typical day for Ms. Fitzgerald.

“I love it when my work can impact culture,” Robin told Adspire. “I’m sure that’s a wish of everybody, that it kind of transcends the advertising category, and people in the world can react to it and appreciate it, not just our peers.

“Just to be a part of that moment where people are taking out their phones and pausing on the sidewalks, people are hanging out their car windows… Like really seeing the effect of a powerful message and what that can do to people when you quantify a statistic in a way that’s really emotional and real, was a very powerful moment for me.”

These are the moments that ad womxn hustle, sweat and live for.

“You’ve got your whole life to be promoted... rise as it feels right.”

From copywriter (CW) to creative director (CD) to vice president (VP) to chief creative officer (CCO), Robin has had quite the come-up in the ad industry. Nonetheless, a key focus along her journey was simply taking her time.

“When I was starting out, people tried to promote you quickly,” Robin shared.

“I actually turned down promotions earlier on in my career, because I felt like – and I’m talking like three years into my career or something – I thought, I haven’t done nearly enough work to have the confidence to start breaking down other people’s work. I need to go out and I need to experience other people and other people’s opinions and I need to really feel that I know that position as I go into it.”

‘Learn now, advance later’ was the motto, giving Robin more opportunities to gain respect, study the role and and better understand her peers and partners.

“So don’t be in a rush… just get to know the work and be the best creative you can."

“Think of yourself as your role first.”

When starting at an agency, Robin said you should first and foremost define yourself as the role you’re in. So, you’re a copywriter, or you’re an art director, or you’re an account executive. You’re not a female account executive, or a male account executive, or a nonbinary account executive. Obviously these parts of your identity play into who you are and what you create, and they should, but Robin says your first foot forward should focus on your main position.

You’re in there for that role– to be the best [fill in the blank] you can be.

“I don’t care what your gender is, what color your skin is, what be it,” Robin said. “I just want a great [fill in the blank]. Be that, and then let the other aspects of your personality come in, but lead with that and I think you’ll ask the right questions, because it’s all in service of being in that role.”

Below: She also directed creative for PayPal's first ever Super Bowl ad in 2016.

On top of asking more questions, Robin urges ad womxn to speak up in meetings and not wait to be recognized.

“Often times I think we’re like, ‘I’m doing a good job, they must see how hard I’m working,’ ‘I was here til midnight,’ or ‘This is great, so someone’s going to notice, and if they don’t, well then I guess this isn’t the place for me,’" Robin explained.

“If you think you’re busy, your supervisor is dealing with 10 more things on top of that, so it’s not always a malicious slight, they’re not overlooking you on purpose. Just ask, ask for it and then if you lay it out and all that and it’s still not going on, then it might not be the place." 

“You have to have optimism and resilience.”

“I think those will serve you well in advertising,” Robin said. “You obviously have to have a thick skin; we’re a service industry so you’re going to get knocked down, your ideas aren’t going to knock it out of the park every time. Your ideas may be amazing and the client’s just not jelling with them.

"A lot of people get burned out on it because it just becomes very personal; you have to fall in love so deeply and then you have to be able to let go immediately. It’s tough, it’s up and down, so you have to be able to go back to the well over and over again, not lose your optimism and be able to bounce back.”

Robin’s had to do this a handful of few times – in particular, when an exec position opened up while she was a creative director at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky (CPB) in LA.

The agency began the search for someone new, and Robin stepped forward. She laid out the awards she's won for CPB, the businesses she's earned, and how she's been the de facto leader for the last few months and counting. She asked for the open role of executive creative director (ECD), and the agency said they'd take it under consideration.

Robin waited it out. Shortly after, the new hire was announced.

“To be honest, that was like, ‘Ugh, what do I do here?’ I just felt, ‘What’s my next move? Do I stay here?’ I put it on the line, like I want to do this, there’s so many great things I love about this company, but I don’t think people are seeing me in that light and what do I do now?” 

Even though it felt wrong, Robin stuck around for one last year.

Below: She also helped create "Aunt Edith" for the Georgia lottery.

“I worked with the person that they brought in, and he was fantastic,” she said. “I learned a lot from Jim and he was incredibly supportive to the point of saying, ‘You should’ve had this job that I have.’ A great creative but also very understanding of the environment and what I was capable of more than the people who were making the decisions in other offices."

Robin thought it would kill her to stay, but recounted that it actually made her stronger. She felt validated when he recognized what she could bring to the agency, and the same person who stepped into her hopeful ECD role ended up securing the position for her once he moved up.

“It was really fantastic to be championed in that way," Robin said. "It made me feel like I could do it, I could do anything, and so when this other opportunity came to do this, I was stronger for it. I hadn’t thrown in the towel and walked off because I didn’t get what I thought was coming – I gained more allies and I was stronger moving into the position."

Like many of Adspire’s ad womxn, Robin sees each day in the ad industry in 2019 more welcoming and inclusive than the last. It’s something that brings hope and sets the bar going forward - but the gears have only just begun their grind.

“I think it’s wide open right now,” Robin said.

“I love that we’re having all of these discussions. I mean, it’s a bittersweet conversation to have about #MeToo, talking about abuse of power or minimizing people’s worth or mansplaining and all that kind of stuff. But it is out in the open now and people are hyperaware of that. Take advantage of that, to have your windows be opened.” 

And we’ll do what we can until the windows fall off.


Check out more dope shit from Robin right here or over here.

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