In 1982, Jane Evans was the first woman to join the Leagas Delaney creative department. She was part of a new generation embarking on careers after equal opportunity legislation had come into force.
She did some good work. Won some awards. And then went to Australia to win a load more.
During her time Down Under she broke taboos. Creating the first ad to ever show a divorced couple. Running an ad that showed men doing housework effectively.
She launched James Squire, Australia’s first craft beer brand. She became Regional Creative Director of JWT Asia-Pacific.
She launched her own agency, winning clients like Maserati and Revlon. An agency that was named the best independent agency in Asia-Pacific.
And yet, despite the stellar career, despite support and testimonies from the industry’s biggest names, she then found it impossible to get a job.
Because Jane had turned 50. Finding a woman over 50 in an advertising agency creative department is almost impossible.
Jane has decided to change that. She’s founded janee, a new creative resource of brilliant older creative women who want to change how advertisers communicate to a consumer group that controls £5.27 trillion in the UK alone.
And she’s also founded Uninvisibility, a multi-media campaign to bring older women back into the business spotlight.
Jane is passionate, outspoken, insightful, empathetic and all-round brilliant company. Blimey, has she got some stories. In what I hope is an incredibly important Hour of Advertising interview, we cover some of the best tales from a vibrant career, and discuss some of the burning problems that Jane is looking to solve going forward.
Jump to a section:
- Finding a creative partner, becoming the first women in a creative department and learning on the job…
- Learning from industry idols, lunching with the stars and moving Down Under…
- Creating award-winning campaigns, launching a new agency and tackling digital creativity…
- Returning to the UK, being overlooked for roles and the rise in ‘academic creativity’…
- The crisis facing women today, shining a light on over-50 female creatives and helping clients make the leap…
Part one: Finding a creative partner, becoming the first women in a creative department and learning on the job…
Do you remember the first time in your career when you really fucked up?
The first time I screwed up was by actually getting a job. I’d been to my headhunter and she said ‘you should get a job from that. Pick twelve agencies you want to get a job with, go to them with your portfolio and only if you don’t get a job in one of those twelve, change your name to something stupid and then go back to them’. I got a job in one of them. Which was great at the time but now I’m still plain old Jane Evans, instead of something like ‘Phoebe Waterfall’. That would have helped now. That’s how Tiger Savage did it!
You got in at Leagas Delaney — what was that like?
It was 1982 and I was working with a guy called Mike Allain. He was black and disabled and I was the first woman in the creative department — we joked that one of us just needed to be gay and Jewish and we had the lot.
How did you guys become a team?
We went to Ealing College together. Everyone got teamed up and I got given Mike and he was fabulous. It was probably very different back then in terms of how we got teamed up. There were only really four colleges — Ealing, Watford, Hounslow and Manchester — and so basically there wasn’t a huge amount of people to match. I was at Ealing and there was actually an odd number in the year ahead of me, so I got moved up a year because they were short an art director. And it was like picking a sports team — the black guy and the girl were the last picked and ended up together.
Interestingly enough I spoke to a friend who did the same course at Watford whilst I was at Ealing, and she ended up being the ‘woman and the black guy team’ too. And then both us women got dropped by our black copywriters because they felt that working with a woman in a primarily all male industry was holding them back in their careers!
So this was a time when there was basically one female creative in each agency — did you all know each other? Was it almost like a mini community?
No, not at all. It took almost 30 years for us all to hook up and share stories. It was very much ‘one per agency’. In Australia it was a little bit different — it seems there were a lot more female creatives at the time in Aussie agencies than in London. And I think that’s a little bit because Aussie chicks were just a bit tougher. In England the industry was so macho that English girls thought ‘we’re smart enough that we can go and do something else, so why would we stay on that rugby pitch?’
So Day One, starting out as the first woman in the Leagas Delaney creative department. What was it like?
It was fabulous. It used to be in Endell Street and it used to be a long, thin office, and each team had an office running off the side. We were in the broom cupboard at the end, which meant that we had to go past every single person’s office as we went down. So I think the first person asked us, ‘can we swear’? And we were like, ‘fuck yeah!’… then the second asked ‘can we have nude pictures on the walls?’ and I’m saying ‘if they’re tasteful, then yes’… and then I think we got to the final office and the question was ‘can we fart?’ and I’m like ‘absolutely not — that’s where I draw the line!’.
Having a woman in the department was genuinely a new thing for them. I think my offer letter was sent to ‘Jane Evans Esquire’, that’s how unusual it was — even the secretaries thought there’d been a mistype.
Once first impressions were made, how did you settle in there?
We were absolutely dropped smack-bang in the middle of it. Coming from art school where I’d never actually directed a shoot before, suddenly one Saturday morning we were told that we were off directing a shoot. We weren’t shown what to do — a lot of it was making it up as we went along.
There was a real hierarchy though, and actually I think this is something that’s now really missing from modern advertising. You’d have the ‘baby’ team, then you’d have a couple of mid-weight teams, then you’d have a couple of senior teams, then you’d have the ‘very senior team’, and then you’d have the creative director. You’d start out on tiny one-inch ads and then progress to ads for charity events — which were actually great briefs as you could have freedom with them. Then you’d upgrade to radio, then print, and then finally you get to the point where you’d be given the TV brief. But you’d have had to master radio before you got anywhere near TV. There was structure.
Leagas Delaney must have been a great learning ground…
I was around the best people in the industry to learn from. This was the agency that had just done the ‘Firips’ radio campaign with Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones! So at the agency Christmas party me and my copywriter went up to Mel and Griff and said to them ‘you’re making our life hell!’. We told them that we kept getting radio briefs and being told to make them ‘as good as Mel and Griff’!
But they were lovely about it and actually they invited us over to their studio the following week to give us a lesson and help us learn how to do radio. There was a real sense of helping young people. We were invested in. We’d gone straight from college and immediately been given a job — we weren’t on a graduate scheme, we were fully employed. Too much young talent these days is treated as free and the agencies don’t value them, so they don’t value themselves. Nobody gets anything out of it.
Part two: Learning from industry idols, lunching with the stars and moving Down Under…
Away from Leagas, who else did you learn from? Who did you idolise?
Barbara Nokes, Barbara Nokes and Barbara Nokes! We actually became friends later on when I was in Australia, but she was always the person I looked up to. She was the person I wanted to be like. She was really open to mentoring people.
Is it important that young people getting into the industry have those idols?
When I lost my job at Leagas Delaney I sent out a mailer to everyone I really admired, and I still keep the responses at home now. When you lost your job you got a UB40 form. So with letraset I slavishly re-created a UB40 form and got it put on all the Creative Director’s desks in London. And there was a reply form on it that they needed to send me back with an interview date. The people I sent them to — it was Steve Henry, it was Dave Trott, it was Barbara Noakes, it was John Webster — you could name the greats. They were all around.
It was a really inspirational time. And because the industry was so much smaller, there was a real sense of community, so if you were in you were protected by it. There was a camaraderie that I don’t think exists anymore. I don’t think anyone could today even name 10 great Creative Directors in London off the top of their heads.
Was there a sense of this at the time?
Well I don’t think we realised how lucky we were. It’s the sort of thing you have to look back on. I was taking things for granted, like going to lunch and Duran Duran being there. I remember once going home to my mum. My whole life my mother had always asked me when I got home what I’d had for lunch that day. And I came back this one day and when she asked, I remember saying ‘mum, why don’t you ask me who I had lunch with!?’… So she asked me who I had lunch with, and I said, ‘Prince Andrew’. And she lost her mind, because I’d been wearing jeans!
You mentioned earlier a few agencies and a few creatives you wanted to work for — did you ever have a real ‘career plan’?
In London, no. It was just ‘get in there, get established, win some awards, make a name for yourself’. And we didn’t think in terms of ‘careers’ then, it wasn’t that business-like. You went in, you did it, you had a good time, you did some great work, you weren’t on some career plan.
When I was 25, I got headhunted down to Australia, and that was probably the first time that I had to think career-wise. And that thought was ‘do I stay in London or do I go to Australia’. I had a really good job offer here and I had a really good job offer there…and the sunshine won out.
My next question was going to be how you came to that decision!?
The sunshine won out! There was also a guy called Nick George, who started the same year as me and he went ‘Jane, in Australia the young people all rent massive great big houses on the beach, live on the dole, smoke dope and surf. If you’re an ambitious young person in Australia you can absolutely kill it.’
That was probably the turning point in me. Plus my Dad travelled to Australia a lot, and he said to me that he thought I’d prefer it because I’d be able to speak my mind out there. I didn’t have to be an English rose.
Were agencies noticeably different once you were out there?
From a creative point of view, not really. They were just smaller. But I found that everyone in those agencies really did work amongst everything. You weren’t ever just stuck in the creative department. You became a better suit. You became a better planner. You really did know how the whole industry worked.
Did you find you had to change the way you approached your work?
A little. Over there it’s a lot ‘rougher’. It’s not quite so ‘intellectual’. But through that roughness you can get some fucking honesty out of it. I think Australia to this day produces some cool, raw ideas. I think English advertising is more intellectual, I think American advertising is a bit more flash, but every year there’s some sort of down-and-dirty idea that comes out of Australia that you were always looking for.
When I went over there it was fabulous. By 1989/90 I was working in my first creative department that was 50/50 male/female. We had Christen Monge who was our Creative Director, who to this day is the best Creative Director I’ve ever worked with in the whole of my life. I was the Head of Art at 27 years old and it was just the most fantastic time.
What made Christen the best Creative Director you’ve worked for?
Christen was the best because he’d let others speak. He’d go into a meeting and even if it lasted five hours, he’d let everyone have their say. He’d listen to them all and then at the end he’d take everything and sum it up with brilliant wisdom. Because he was such a great strategic creative director, you could go to him with an inkling of an idea and in a very short amount of time he’d find a new way for you to look at it.
And also, he had a genuine 50/50 male/female split in his department. In 1989. I don’t believe any other creative director in the world could say that.
Part three: Creating award-winning campaigns, launching an agency and tackling digital creatives…
You left Ogilvy in 1991 — why?
We had the recession that we had to have. That was the point that you could genuinely say that advertising stopped being fun. But that was also the point that I openly became a feminist. Until then we didn’t really talk about it, we were very nice and ‘playing the game’. But it wasn’t going to last.
So the money men came in and I went back to an agency where I was the only girl in the creative department. It was 1991 and being ten years into my career, going back and being the only girl in the creative department again was hell. I was less welcome there than I’d ever been anywhere in my life, and it was all out war. There’s not much more to say than it was all honestly horrendous. I left under really bad circumstances and it really had a severe effect on me.
Which is when JWT came along…
I was really lucky that I had an amazing headhunter who told me that she was going to find the one Creative Director in Sydney that didn’t mind hiring me. And sure enough, she did. But six months after I was hired at JWT, the Creative Director got sick and left, and we went nine months without a Creative Director. So I thought ‘ok, I’ve got a clear run at this. No-one standing in front of me, I want to be Creative Director’.
At the time we had this amazing client at Unilever who’d been there her whole career. She was 55 and about to retire. But it was the first time in her career she’s ever had a senior female team working with her. And she basically said to me, ‘I’m out of here, I don’t care about my career, or anyone above me, give me the best fucking washing powder commercial you’ve ever seen in your life and do not give me two cunts in a kitchen.’ And that was the brief.
For you this must have been the ideal opportunity?
It was this perfect storm. I negotiated a brilliant female copywriter, the amazing Jane Caro AM, to come and work with me. She was still on maternity leave, so we worked out a deal where she came and worked 3 days per week for 5 hours per day. Which at the time was completely unheard of. But we’d lock ourselves away for those 15 hours per week and just burst away at the creative stuff. The rest of the time I’d do the meetings, the planning, all of the other bullshit.
And we ended up creating the Drive washing powder campaign, which was the first campaign that ever showed a divorced couple, it was the first campaign that ever showed an unmarried couple living together and it was the first campaign that ever showed men doing the laundry.
It won almost every award in the world. It didn’t win at Cannes because it was remade around the world and judges in each market tried to claim it as their own. But it won everything else — even the Unilever Grand Prix. Yet we’d done this brilliant piece of work, and the day before it was launched, the agency brought in a new Creative Director.
Which must have been infuriating…
Well the moment we’d got the work in the can, I went and applied for the Creative Director job and the Managing Director laughed in my face. A new Creative Director was hired instead, and the moment he came in, he gave the follow up to our award-winning campaign to the junior team. We were moved into a small broom cupboard and that was that. What I learned throughout my career was that the people who were the biggest blocks to my career were untalented Creative Directors.
Surely you couldn’t work for him any longer?
Absolutely not. So I bought this massive warehouse and set up an agency on the ground floor. I set up the agency and started having a family too. I had the Nanny and kids upstairs, and the agency downstairs. We started with a beer brand, James Squire beer, which involved launching Australia’s first craft beer, and we went from there.
Sounds like a fun brand to start with…
The interesting thing was when we were at Ealing, Charles Saatchi came to talk to all of us and he asked us what brand we wanted to be famous for. All the blokes picked beers and sports cars, I said ‘washing powder’. Yet when I started my agency my first two clients were James Squire beer and Maserati sports cars!
In fact, when the beer client first came in, he said to me ‘why should I give my beer account to a woman?’ and I went ‘because men have been advertising tampons forever’. He couldn’t argue with that.
So how was it running an agency you hadn’t necessarily planned for?
Well in fact it was fantastic. The first two to three years of it was incredible. We were the 19th most awarded agency in Asia Pacific and the only independent on the list. We had Maserati, we had Revlon, we were doing really cool work. I had six people working with me — five of which were female — and we introduced things that I see ‘millennial’ agencies doing now. We started offering yoga classes for our team in 1999.
Were you ever conscious about putting labels on your agency in terms of its positioning?
Well when we first started out I suppose we were one of the first real ‘digital’ agencies. We opened in 1997 and when we eventually lost the James Squire account it was because we kept telling them to build a website and blog, and they kept disagreeing and saying it was all about print.
We did still spend a lot of time talking about what we should call ourselves — and I know people to this day do the same thing. In the end I think we just called ourselves a creative communications company.
How did the ‘digital’ industry come about for you then? Was it a case of learning as you went? Did you train for it?
So for me this is where most of the women I knew were axed from the industry. Digital hit for my generation at the stage where we were starting to go off and have kids, and we left one type of industry and then came back and all of a sudden there was a whole skillset that we didn’t have.
Those of us who carried on sort of moved with it. For me, my job was always about telling stories that moved culture. What the medium was, that didn’t actually change. A Facebook post could be the same as a poster. I can’t see where the line is. I’ve just written a book and one of the key points is that if you actually know the industry, nothing really changes that much. We’d get a brief in the 70s saying ‘how do you get people from the car park to the terminal using signage’. That’s no different from the UX briefs people are getting today. It’s the same processes — all it means is learning a new programme or new acronyms.
But was there still a lot of resistance to you from this new world of digital?
Oh yeah, I think a lot of guys just looked at us in our mid-30s and went ‘no’. But I also think the emergence of ‘digital’ opened the door to a lot of people claiming to be creative but weren’t. And I still think it’s a big problem that the lines have been blurred between ‘tools’ and ‘creation’. A lot of people who just use tools class themselves as creative, and that’s devalued those who value ourselves as storytellers. The ones who have the crazy fucking brains that can pull the random stuff out.
And it changed the dynamic of agencies too?
Definitely. Because it brought in Graphic Designers and other ‘creatives’ who disrupted the copywriter-art director dynamic. In our minds as a traditional creative team, the communication is key and I’m not in competition with the copywriter. But what this new approach did was separate those two. The Graphic Designer got involved and became in competition with the copywriter rather than being a team.
What this also did was bring in more male bullshit bravado. There was all these young guys coming in who had been on a 12-week ad course and could beat their chests and see who could try and win the most awards. We didn’t care about winning awards, we wanted our work to get noticed by heroes like John Hegarty and Dave Trott. But now you’d have people who’d play the game of winning awards. And the game of winning awards can be gamed.
Part four: Returning to the UK, being overlooked for roles and the rise in ‘academic creativity’…
The industry’s changing but your agency is going great guns — what happened next?
Everything’s going fucking fantastic with the agency but I’m in an abusive relationship. And it was only when I started my agency that I was finally surrounded with advisors who were able to say to me: ‘Jane, you realise you’re on every single mortgage but you’re not on the deeds of any of the properties that you own?’ When it was discovered what he was doing, then it led to emotional blackmailing and eventually it turned violent.
I’d just had two small children and I just had to get out. So I went from what was basically Droga5 in the making to a much smaller agency and a little cottage industry because I’d turned into a single mother with two traumatised children. I had to temper my ambitions.
Because I’d had such success with James Squire, for the next 12 years I basically spent all my time working on new beer brands. I was creating craft beer after craft beer — I think I did 9 over that period — and it got to the point where I just thought ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not a specialist.’ I needed something different.
Which is when you returned to the UK?
Well my daughter is a very talented singer-songwriter, and she got an offer to go to the BRIT School. If we were ever going to make a move, now was the time, so I sold up, came over to England and went ‘I’m going to take my maternity leave’. I went to the National Film & Television school and studied storytelling for the screen. I got selected as one of the ‘up-and-coming storytellers’ for the BFI programme, so I then spent a few years studying that too.
And then the figures came out at the 3% conference (where it was revealed that only 3% of all US Creative Directors were women). I’d already discovered that screenwriting wasn’t going to pay as quickly as I thought it was, so the combination of that and seeing those figures made me realise I had to come back to advertising. I stuck my hand up… and was completely ignored.
No-one even entertained talking to you?
I think it was when I applied for a job as a Creative Director at Marks & Spencer and didn’t even get a response that I thought ‘holy shit’. If I can’t even get an interview at Marks & Spencer, then there’s something wrong here. And my headhunter who I’ve known and trusted for years told me that unless I took 10 years off my CV and got a face lift, there was no way I was getting another job.
So I put out a blog outlining all the things that I’d been told I couldn’t do during my career. And Cindy Gallop got hold of it. She shared the hell out of it. It had something like 2,000 views in two days. She sent it to every Creative Director in London, telling them they needed to meet me. I got two meetings. Over three years I applied for 180 jobs. I got three interviews. The first I was close to getting, but a friend of theirs had a business that went bust so they gave it to him. The second I knew only saw me out of political correctness, and the third said to me ‘we’d give you the job, but we think you’re going to be bored’. Of which my response was ‘I’d never get bored of putting a roof over my children’s head’.
You must have thought ‘I’m never going to get a job again’.
Well I met another headhunter who knew me and was originally from Australia too. I thought I’d got a real advocate, yet still he came back with notes that were like ‘they were excited about your 50-something female awesomeness, but there’s not enough super-current, big-thinking, innovation-centric, high-level conceptual, tech-friendly work’. It was infuriating. More so because I’d just put together a new website and just won a Wix award for it. Out of 3 million websites, mine was in the top 50, but still apparently, I wasn’t digital-savvy.
When really with creatives you just want a different way of thinking…
When we started, the kids that got into advertising were the class clowns. They were the ones at the back of the class. The really fucking clever ones. And because there was free education, they went to art school because it was a doss. They get into the advertising course because there’s a certain way of thinking that sits with the back of the class and not at the front of the class. But now it’s so over-educated with so many pointless courses, that now it’s the kids at the front of the class who are in it. That’s like putting the media planner in with the creative people!
And they took away our offices, they took away our ‘sheds’. You used to be able to shut that door, say the most ridiculous things on the planet — it’d be wrong, but you’d eventually get somewhere. So much that is magic about the industry has been lost.
You’ve touched upon it a bit, but who’s to blame?
Well clearly Martin Sorrell is one. He hated creatives, he hated the fact they were held up on a pedestal, because he couldn’t perceive the value in it. But those flashes of inspiration — FCUK for instance, how fucking valuable was that flash of inspiration? As soon as you started putting monetary value on it and started judging by the hour, you stopped valuing the creative madness.
Part five: The crisis facing women today, shining a light on over-50 female creatives and helping clients make the leap…
Do you think we can go back to the days when more value is put on true creative thinkers?
I think it’s going to come back. But I think that it’ll be by lots of small shops. And I think for clients, diverse creative thinking isn’t being driven by agencies quick enough, so I think they have to look elsewhere.
I can’t say what other people are going to do to make sure that happens, but what I’ve done is built a network in a very short amount of time of some of the greatest creative women from around the world, who won’t ever step foot back in a traditional agency, but want to work on brilliant briefs. And almost all of them joined me for the same reason, which was that they wanted to change things from the inside. I’m connecting with women who are at the top of business, I’m connecting with governments, because what we’re facing is actually a crisis.
That’s strong terminology…
Well if we don’t do something about it now it’s going to be a major crisis. For our generation of women, we didn’t have private pensions when we started our career and we didn’t have maternity leave. So we’re facing our 50s with zero pensions and no chance of getting a job. And we need to work for the next 20 years otherwise the whole country is going to have a generation of destitute older women. That has to change.
And as you say, it’s in an agency’s best interests in many ways too…
Well given the average age of most agencies, they can’t do anything other than imagine what it’s like to be a customer our age. We always say ‘we’ve been your age but you’ve never been ours’. A 16-year-old doesn’t know what it’s like to be a 32-year-old, but a 32 year old knows what it’s like to be a 16 year old. And that’s the same concept with a 32-year-old and a 52-year-old.
We need to set the narrative. We need to be the ones doing this and we need to show you what we can do. This concept that 35 is your career peak is bullshit and particularly cruel on women. For women, when you’re 50 you’re coming into your real power. Because you can finally commit your whole self to the job, you have the experience to know what works. When I came through menopause I finally thought ‘holy shit this is what David Droga felt at 22!’.
So this is where your work comes in?
We’re the first generation of women in the workforce, but nobody’s pioneered the second half of our careers. And this is why we’re getting such a great response, particularly from women at the top of business. We’ve been middle-aged forever. When I was 35, my life expectancy was 70, I’m now 57 and they’re saying I could live to 120. We’ve been gifted 30 years of extra life, but it’s not at the end, but in the middle. There has to be a massive change.
And it’s about educating clients on that?
Somebody the other day said ‘Jane I’ve got a great brief for you. It’s a shampoo brand and we’re targeting women 30–50’. And I said to them ‘so, what, women stop washing their hair when they’re 50?’ and she looked at me blankly. Sure, if the person is 70 and needs a special shampoo because their white hair is different, or if there’s genuinely a unique selling point to the product aimed specifically at 30–50-year olds then fine, but that’s not usually the case.
It comes from these old marketing tropes, and as soon as you point it out, people go ‘oh shit, that’s really stupid’. What I’ve found is as soon as you’ve mentioned something like that, younger people go ‘holy shit, I’m hurting myself aren’t I?’
So can you talk a bit about projects you are doing for clients that do get it?
We’ve got a couple of projects on that we’re doing secretly for young artists. Nobody is going to know it’s us. The plan is for us to wait until these are the coolest things on the planet, and then we’ll say “by the way that was written by a 50-year-old, that was directed by a 50-year-old, that was edited by a 50-year-old, the VFX were done by a 50-year-old.” We’re going to use our invisibility to start creating some things.
Which feels like a big next step in quite an incredible journey. It feels empowering…
It’s empowering to me because the industry is still full of people who work in a fucking ivory tower and have no comprehension whatsoever about the world. The last 3 years have been the most valuable of my life. I ended up at the food bank. To actually be unemployed and broke for three years — as a single mother — was a lesson. In my life I’ve applied for multi-million dollar mortgages and I’ve applied for housing benefits. It’s so much easier to get multi-million dollar mortgages. I’ve come out of this with such a great sense of empathy. White advertising people only really talk about impressing other white advertising people. I want to help those other women I met in the food bank.