In our latest 'Women in Advertising' installment, we chat with Stacy Durand, Co-Founder/CEO of Los Angeles-based Media Design Group, about her experience as a 30-year veteran in the competitive niche of media buying. MDG was one of the first independent agencies to develop an attribution model to measure web order volume and launched some of the largest DTC eCommerce campaigns in the industry. The agency launched its CTV division in 2015 and total billings now approach $250 million.
In addition to her work with Media Design Group, Durrans is also a Co-Founder and Board Member of SmartMedia Technology, a full-service marketing agency focusing on offline and digital marketing solutions, including industry-leading web 3.0 campaigns. SMT has nearly 200 employees in offices in Los Angeles, Denver, London, Sydney, New York, and Kyiv.
We spoke to Durand about the challenges she’s faced and advice for the next generation of women leaders in advertising.
Talk about the challenges you have faced as a female CEO.
My partner and I founded Media Design Group in April 2008. As with any new business, there were numerous challenges as we started the business, not least of which was one of the largest economic downturns in recent history. Being a new agency, with an aggressive and nimble team, helped us not just survive but excel. Many larger companies were locked in large commitments and slower to react to softening performance. MDG pushed stations to reduce media rates, negotiating lower costs for our new clients, driving immediate efficiencies and rapid growth. Being hungry during a tough time fueled our drive and success.
As a female executive, I faced some challenges starting all of my business. In the beginning, I was worried about being taken seriously. In meetings, I am often the only female in the room. Over time I have realized that knowledge is power. Size and a baritone voice do not matter if you are knowledgeable and articulate. I no longer worry about being in the minority or being ‘heard.’ If you know what you are talking about and have confidence, you do not need to be the loudest. There is also the challenge of being a working mother. Work-life balance is a constant issue for all women with children. As a founder, I dealt with never-ending deadlines and an abundance of business travel. All working moms have a tremendous amount of guilt. Eventually, I was able to mitigate my guilt with the realization that I was setting a good example for my son and a role model for my daughter. The time I spent with my kids, although maybe less than other moms, was quality time.
What hurdles have you faced and overcome within the industry or starting your own business? Any specific challenges you or other women face in similar positions? Personal anecdotes of dealing with sexism or toxic masculine working environments? How did you handle it?
A female entrepreneur has unique challenges, especially in the ad tech space. Even as a respected business owner, I still have to deal with inappropriate behavior. Establishing clear boundaries is essential regardless of setting or seniority. Over the years, I have learned that it is important to address any uncomfortable situations immediately, directly, and professionally. I am good at identifying someone/something that is going to be a potential problem and taking charge of the tone immediately. If you are paying attention, you can get ahead of issues and hopefully avoid the problem altogether.
In terms of perception or reality for women in leadership positions, have you noticed any tangible progress throughout your career?
Without a doubt. When starting my career, there were very few females in leadership positions and even fewer founders. Now, there are numerous successful female-run businesses and countless women in high-level positions. But, while there has been tremendous progress in the past 25 years, much more work must be done. Those of us running the industry must continue to support women new to the space and ensure they have the opportunity to flourish.
Why might advice for being ‘fearless’ for women working at an agency differ from that for men?
Be persistent, and don’t be ignored. Men are often seen as assertive, while a female making the same statement is ‘bossy.’ If you have the knowledge to back up your statement, fight for it.
What are your top tips when it comes to setting work/life balance boundaries?
Ensure you don’t miss the important moments with your friends and family. While running the business has always been a focus, I make appointments in my calendar to ensure I’m at games, graduations, and vacations. The key is having a solid team that can handle any situation so I can be present wherever I need to be in the moment – both at work and at home.
One piece of advice you would give your 10-year-old self?
Don’t second guess your gut. I’ve managed hundreds of people and billions of dollars in media over the past few decades, and the one constant for me has been that my initial reaction to a person or situation is usually the right one.