5 minutes with… Rebecca Carrasco
Last year, Rebecca Carrasco left her role as Executive Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Australia to complete some unfinished business: a PhD she began 15 years ago.
She is now juggling academic deadlines with a new venture, MADEBY-AND, and will join the Ad Stars 2021 jury later this year. As one of Australia’s most awarded creatives, Carrasco has always made bold career moves, launching her own agency Colman Rasic Carrasco in 2007. She joined Facebook as Head of Creative Shop, Australia & New Zealand, in 2015, before leading creative across the ‘Publicis Neighbourhood’ and later joining Saatchi & Saatchi. Often, she has juggled senior leadership positions in a part-time capacity to make room for family life.
Rebecca speaks with LBB about why she’s so interested in demonstrating the value of creative ideas, and how faster, more fluid work slipstreams are a double-edged sword for our industry.
Last year, you stepped away from your role at Saatchi & Saatchi to complete your PhD. It must be a big shock moving from ad land to academia. How’s it going so far?!
Rebecca> So much change has happened so quickly in our industry that the PhD has required some reshaping before I can dive back into it. The premise is unchanged, but the context is altered. Personally, the biggest shift for me is moving between macro and micro.
When working with ideas in advertising, you find an insight then wrap it in the language of broad appeal (relevant to the idea). Whereas, for the PhD, you find an insight then wrap it in relevant detail, with as little bias as possible – and you don’t script the ending, you need to uncover it. I’m taking time to think through the angle of the details, so the big picture might land in an interesting space. I’m between the two worlds.
Can you give us a hint as to the topic of your PhD, and why it’s so close to your heart?
Rebecca> The Commercial Value of Creative Ideas. I started it 15 years ago, then started my own agency, then had children, etc. It was put on the backburner due to lack of time, not lack of conviction. I’ve always been confounded by the staggering amount of marketing money sunk into making noise that people don’t want to engage with. Very few brands actually build brand. We need tools to help brands find more meaningful ways forward.
You are now the Principal at MADEBY-AND: can you tell us what this new venture is all about?
Rebecca> Large businesses tend to have stakeholder layers and standardised work channels. Experimentation can be difficult in this context. This is about new ways of exploring audience engagement – AND is designed to move in many directions.
You spent several years at Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney. Can you tell us a bit about the agency’s creative legacy in Australia, your proudest achievements over that three-year period?
Because it’s a global institution, Saatchi is one of the only agencies that your friends (who don't work in agencies) have heard of. I’ve worked for Saatchi Australia twice, and Saatchi NZ before that. (So, according to my non-ad friends, I’ve had a least three jobs.) I think in this region, Saatchi has perhaps been best known for its narrative storytelling. And as with most positions I’ve held, the people tend to be what I’m most proud of.
You were also Creative Lead across ‘The Publicis Neighbourhood’. What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Rebecca> Our industry is changing, so I welcome change that seeks to harness the best of what we do and take it into the future. Being asked to help pioneer the Power of One model in this market, via The Publicis Neighbourhood, was a privilege. It’s a dynamic way of working; drawing on specialist skills from across the Groupe for each brief, and it dovetailed nicely with my prior experience as Head of Facebook’s Creative Shop. While any new way of working has inherent challenges, one of the biggest challenges for me was managing my roles, together, as part-time.
You have taken on many senior creative roles on a part-time basis. Do you have advice for other women hoping to climb the career ladder while also achieving more balance in their week?
Rebecca> I needed workplace flexibility before flexibility was something you could really ask for. When starting a family 11 years ago, I chose to step away from being an ECD and spoke to a few agencies about creating a part-time role as a CD. There were so few women in creative, let alone leadership, and the norm was to leave at this point. I felt that by lowering my position and income, I’d be justified in pushing back on the hours. And while I’m grateful to have stayed active, it’s not the option I would choose if in that position today.
The amount of positive change for women in advertising over the last four years has been remarkable. A conversation about flexible hours is now acceptable, without undue sacrifice. The truth is, if you take on a role you take on that role. And all the hours required. So it’s about setting up the role in a way that can logically work. If you’re talking about flexibility and you’re in a team, it might mean finding a partner willing to work in a complimentary way. In a leadership role, it might mean support from other management, your department, and an EA. And if opting for part-time, the logical benefit would be a reduction in expected output/KPI’s relative to the reduced DPW.
Do you think the pandemic will change our industry for better or worse?
Rebecca> Both. Folklore speaks of our industry with regular hours, long lunches, and idea-scribbled napkins swapped for lucrative pay-checks. As we know, most of this didn’t make it past the 1900’s. Liberating people to work in ways that make our ways of working tenable will no doubt help sustain our industry. The increased flexibility may also support better diversity if people can work through various life stages.
The last year has also forced faster, more fluid slipstreams for work to travel through – to me this is a double-edged sword to be treated with caution. Speed can be a virtue that prevents over-analysing and paralysing good ideas, but it can also be a vice that forces bad ideas through under the veil of expediency. The challenge will be helping our clients’ wield that sword in the most powerful way as we all move forward.
What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed?
Rebecca> A purpose. What this is changes as different goals fulfil their intended purpose, but I do find it hard to stay motivated without believing in a big picture. Despite the practical benefits of money, titles, awards, etc., they’ve never motivated me in isolation. I know I’ve made decisions that not everyone can understand, and I know I always will. We’re so used to perceiving success as a vertical climb that it can be confounding when someone chooses a different direction. One thread that ties it all together though is a belief in the transformative power of ideas. Purpose isn’t hard to find if you start here.
You’re joining the jury at AD STARS 2021: what are you most looking forward to?
Rebecca> People will spend their surplus income consuming creative ideas in various formats, but will actively avoid most ads. I’ve always been excited by work that bridges that gap. Ideas created for brands that people will want to lean into. I’m most looking forward to finding the ads that behave the least the way we might expect them to.
The entry deadline for the AD STARS 2021 Awards has been extended until 15th June. Enter via adstars.org.