The sixth season of cult favorite Mad Men premiered last night on AMC and we got a little taste of what to expect from Don Draper and the mad world of advertising. Of course, Draper—the founding partner at advertising firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—is White and male in an an industry dominated by White men. But we’re curious to know what’s it’s like to be a woman and a minority in the business. We reached out to Vida Cornelious, Chief Creative Officer at GlobalHue advertising agency, who gave us some perspective on what it’s truly like to work in the cutthroat advertising industry alongside the real Don Drapers of the world.
ESSENCE: What’s it like being an African-American woman in such a cutthroat industry?
VIDA CORNELIOUS: You have to view yourself as, I like to use a quote by Eldridge Cleaver: ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ So I think you have to determine that you want to be a part of the solution and one way to do that is being on top of your game and knowing your industry and being confident in what you do. Since it’s a male-dominated field, you’re always going to have some level of people being distrustful of your judgment because you’re a woman and a minority. That makes it challenging. I think one thing we hear more about recently is this notion of Lean In (the title of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book) and it’s true, as women you need to lean in. Sometimes you have to not be afraid to wear pants and wear them well. I’m also a big proponent for reaching back and pulling other young ladies up and forward and trying to offer them as much guidance as I can along the way.
ESSENCE: Do you have to have a little Don Draper in you?
CORNELIOUS: I think we all have a little Don Draper in us in a world of mad men. We are all selling in one way, shape or form. I think the one thing that is valuable to anyone, in any industry, is to make sure that you have passion because nothing makes an idea more relevant and dynamic than people who believe in it. Believing starts with you. You have to believe in your ideas and yourself in order to be successful. I had a client a long time ago who said to a guy on my team, ‘I would have bought that idea if I felt like you had bought that idea.’ So that was really telling because it says that passion for what you do goes a long way and other people can see it.
ESSENCE: Are there any obstacles that you think still exists as an African-American in your industry and as a woman in general?
CORNELIOUS: I think men want to inherently converse with other men. We all do that. We gravitate to people we feel are most like ourselves, so when it’s a male-dominated industry you have the tendency to have that when it comes to leadership. I don’t really look at it as a obstacle. I find it to be somewhat frustrating but I don’t necessarily consider it to be an obstacle. I think something that might be viewed as an obstacle is that we live in a day and age where people are very much about building their personal brand. We build it through our social media outlets so we have a tendency, in some cases, to create more hype around ourselves than we really have. I think it’s really important still to make sure that if you’re going to self-sizzle, then you damn sure better have steak underneath it.
ESSENCE: How did you get the position you’re in?
CORNELIOUS: I was at an agency in Chicago called DDB Chicago which is a larger general market firm. One day I got a phone call from a recruiter asking if I’d be interested in an opportunity with GlobalHue because they were interested in re-vamping their creative product and their creative department. I felt the time was right and I always had an affinity for the multi-cultural marketing space because that was where I had began my career many years ago. In coming aboard, my objective was to 1. make sure I could elevate the quality of the work, recruit the right talent to push the agency and it’s vision forward with regards to what Don Coleman had set forth as his aim for the organization.
ESSENCE: How do you balance your personal and professional life?
CORNELIOUS: It’s kind of tough. I spend a lot of time working, but I do have a really great network of family and friends and I try and be as involved in as many civic organizations as I can. I’m active in my sorority and I try to make sure I have enough balance outside of my work life to help my personal life flourish in a creative field. I feel like the more stimulation you have outside of work, it makes for better grounding for your work anyway.