Jessica Walsh – of Sagmeister & Walsh – has recently launched her own agency, specialising in branding and advertising. Believing in creating beautiful, emotion-driven work, Walsh discusses the move.
A: &Walsh joins just .1% of female-founded agencies. It is an incredibly exciting and pioneering move, and we’re really excited for you! How does it feel to have launched the organisation?
JW:The day I launched my creative agency &Walsh, I was overwhelmed with emotion: elation that this is finally happening, exhaustion from the non-stop work that brought me to this point & an anxious excitement about what’s next. Today, I’m also overwhelmed with gratitude for this privileged position I’ve found myself in. Very few women make it to creative leadership positions, and even fewer have founded their own creative agencies. For this reason, a core focus of &Walsh & our non-profit initiative Ladies, Wine & Design (LW&D) will be on pushing for equality for women & non-binary creatives in our industry.
A: How long has the agency been planned and what were you first moves after establishing the team?
JW: Since I was very young, it has always been my dream to have my own studio that was entirely my own. When forming &Walsh we immediately started with a “brand therapy” strategy phase that is similar to what we take our clients through. We defined our agencies goals, brand attributes, values and vision for this next chapter.
In the last few years, I’ve focused on fine-tuning our processes and strengthening our capabilities in brand identity, campaigns, commercials and social strategy. We’ve also moved beyond design and art direction into deeper strategy, as well as brand development. We work with brands in early stages, advising on products, identifying audiences and helping to shape the brand from the ground up. I am so excited for everything to come with our new values and vision for the agency.
A: The industry is still wholly imbalanced, with only 5-11% of Creative Director positions held by women. Can you expand upon some of the statistics that you’re battling against, and how it fuels the projects you’ll be working on?
JW: The lack of representation in leadership & the pay gap for women & non-binary people has been a focus of mine through LW&D.This initiative was born out of personal experiences with sexism in our industry, not only from men but from other women. I found that sometimes women were unsupportive of one another, possibly because our chances of reaching the top are much slimmer than for men. The numbers say it all: 70% of design students are women, but only 5-11% of creative director positions are held by women. Only 0.1% of creative agencies are owned by women. POINT. ONE. PERCENT. How does this make any sense when women drive about 80% of consumer purchasing? Diversity in leadership at agencies drives profit.
In addition to the leadership gap, there is still a pay gap for women and an even larger gap for women of color. We cannot talk about feminism without including the varying intersections of privilege and oppression. All too often feminism only champions the equality of white, cisgender, straight women. Feminism should be inclusive of all people, championing equality for everyone – no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age or ability. Whilst we’re living in divisive times, it’s exciting to see the younger generations breaking down traditional ideas of gender, beauty, relationships, work culture, towards a future that is more fluid, genderless and accepting of all humans as we are. My dream for our industry is to see much more representation at the top. This will not only make our work stronger and more inclusive but make the creative work function better.
Whilst we’ve made strides towards equality in the last few decades, we still have a long way to go. I’m determined to use &Walsh to expand on these social initiatives with LW&D, and I also want to implement these principles within our studio. I’m excited to build an agency that provides mentorship and equal opportunity for all to learn and grow creatively & climb the ranks towards leadership, if that’s their desire. I also recognise that the career success or leadership track does not have to be the path for everyone, and I will implement paths for those who prefer to focus on their individual craft.
A: What are the core values for you and your team?
JW: Our team runs on a set of core values. A few of our favorites are:
- Zero bullshit: so many agencies try to sell in designs or creative with so much fluff and bullshit. We purposefully try to cut this out. We create strong and functional work that speaks for itself, so we don’t have to sell it in with a bunch of B*S. This also goes for the message we want to deliver in or work. No one wants to be served crazy claims & big words in advertising that aren’t true. We help our clients cut out the fluff so they can define, communicate and illuminate to consumers what is true and honest about their product.
- Supporting the unsupported: social impact initiatives are at the heart of &Walsh. We want to make sure everyone has equal opportunities and we find ways to use design & creativity to make this happen.
A: The brand already has some incredibly strong and recognisable aesthetics. What, for you, are the pillars of great design?
JW: Personally, I am interested in creating emotionally engaging, concept-driven work that is embodied in beautiful forms. I always try to approach the process in a playful way, with a sense of humour. I want people who view my work to experience or feel something, whether it makes them think, brings them joy, or offers them inspiration. I always aim to create functional work that achieves our clients’ goals.
Trendy design & styles can work if you are designing something temporary, like an illustration in a magazine or a poster with a short lifespan. However, most of the time at our studio, we seek to create work that can have a long lifespan & stay relevant for a long while, especially in relation to branding. The identity & visual language we create for our clients should stay fresh & relevant even after a decade. Even with our own branding materials, we wanted the core elements (website and stationery for example) to stay timeless and trend-free whilst the social media assets we played with integrating more personality and funky design styles.
A: What do you hope &Walsh might inspire in other young creatives?
JW: If you have a dream, keep moving towards it. There will always be obstacles, naysayers, haters and those who don’t believe in you along the way, including yourself. The path might not be as straight or simple as you thought, but you have to keep fighting and keep pushing through. Don’t be deterred if it takes longer than you think: age and years are meaningless. And don’t be disillusioned that once you achieve a certain award, title or raise, your life will be happier or more complete. I’ve found the real joy is not in any accomplishment, but in the creative pursuits, discoveries, personal growth and people you meet along the way. And if you’re unsure about making a big change that you know deep down is right, trust your gut, take the leap. You can read more about creating a portfolio & getting hired & other helpful tips on our blog.
A: Ladies, Wine & Design follows in the same footsteps as a non-profit organisation that supports other women, agender and non-binary individuals through creative mentorship. How can individuals get involved, and what goals are you hoping to reach by 2020 and beyond?
JW: To get involved, you can join your local chapter! We have a map on our homepage – check it out to see if you have a local LW&D chapter in your city. If you do, you can attend an event & ask the hosts if you can assist them in any way. If your city doesn’t have a local chapter and you want to be a host, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you started! We also have businesses and brands get involved by donating space for events or providing free wine or food for one of our events. We’re happy to give social media love in exchange for any support.
A huge step we are looking to take in 2020 is with sponsorship. Before now, we’ve taken no financial donations and this project has been entirely self-funded. Currently, &Walsh is the sole financial sponsor of LW&D, but we’ll be looking for additional sponsorship as part of our plans in 2020. We’d love a corporate sponsor to help with larger events to help us hire staff to keep the organization running. The organization will never be for-profit — this money will be used entirely on our events and staff. Email us at email@example.com if you’d like to discuss sponsorships.
In 2020, we are also planning for a global leaders’ event in NYC, inviting the leaders from our chapters around the world to come to NYC for a three-day LW&D event. In just three years, our community has grown to over 250 chapters worldwide. There are so many incredible members of our community and I am so excited to bring everyone together. No matter where we live in the world, the issues we face with sexism in the industry are shockingly universal. I am so excited to see the power of the global LW&D community coming together.
Our long-term goal as an organization is to change these statistics & make a genuine impact on the creative industry. We have a vision for a world of equality where more women, non-binary & underrepresented creatives are in leadership roles. Through LW&D, we are taking the actions to make these visions come to life and together as a community, we are so much stronger. The more our community grows and the louder our voice gets, the closer we get to change.
A: What projects will &Walsh be working on in the near future?
JW: We’ve been incredibly privileged to land some of the most exciting accounts in the last few years, including branding & advertising projects for Snapchat, Apple, Beats by Dre, Kenzo, C3/Live Nation Festivals, SK-II among many others that we are currently working on that we are under NDA & cannot talk about yet. Stay tuned! Lots of work to come!
Jessica Walsh, MILLY CHROMATIC. Courtesy of the artist.