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Your Shot: Why JWT Got Hilary Clinton, Geena Davis and More to Talk Female Capital

J. Walter Thompson London, 6 months, 1 week ago

After new CEO Tamara Ingram introduces the agency’s BBC documentary series Her Story, we caught up with the brains behind the project, Rachel Pashley

Your Shot: Why JWT Got Hilary Clinton, Geena Davis and More to Talk Female Capital

Just days into her new job as CEO of J. Walter Thompson, Tamara Ingram headed to London to introduce ‘Her Story: A Female Revolution’, a BBC world documentary on ‘female capital’ that the agency has created. As she introduced the film and panel, she said that diversity and inclusion would be central to her leadership of the network, distancing the agency brand from the recent controversial allegations against her predecessor.

The first episode of the series was screened to an audience of academics, journalists and marketers and was followed by a lively panel on diversity, chaired by respected broadcaster Kirsty Wark. Martha Lane Fox, Andrew White of the Said Business School and Debenhams director Richard Cristofoli were joined on the panel by J. Walter Thompson’s Global Head of Planning, Rachel Pashley, whose research into ‘Female Tribes’ inspired the documentary.

The first episode explored the idea of female leadership and included interviews with Hilary Clinton and Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė, as well as female Kurdish soldiers on the front line against Daesh. Future shows will explore women’s personal lives as well as how their roles are changing in the worlds of work and religion, and will include the likes of Geena Davis, Iranian racing driver Laleh Seddigh, FEMEN activists and Melinda Gates. The series is inspired by the concept of female capital – women’s value as wealth creators, leaders and consumers.

It’s been an enormous undertaking for J. Walter Thompson London – who have had to set up J. Walter Thompson Entertainment to manage their first foray into the world of TV documentary. And for Rachel Pashley too, who was originally inspired to find new, more relevant ways for the advertising industry to talk to and about people. The film series took two years to make and Rachel is now working on a book which will take the themes of women in contemporary culture further still.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Rachel to find out more about this ambitious project and the thinking behind it.

LBB> The project was an evolution of research that you’d done on ‘Female Capital’. What sparked your decision to research this area? And what was the moment that you realised that you had something bigger than a white paper on your hands?

RP> I think for some time we’d observed that our consumers and our clients were increasingly women, and that as we travelled the world it was more often than not women in the boardrooms, which was indicative of the phenomenon of female progress. However it felt like too many creative briefs or segmentations characterised women only as Mums – ‘the busy working Mum’ – and as a woman in this industry it really under represented the sphere of influence in the world women now possess. 

Look at Michelle Obama – you would never describe her as a ‘busy working Mum’, or dismiss Malala Yousafzai as ‘just a teenager’, she’s a powerful articulate young woman and she is changing the world. The fact is we are at something of a cultural tipping point for women in the world, but culturally this isn’t something we hear enough of, and we wanted to tell the story of female contemporary history, of Her Story, to dramatise all the interesting stories of female progress and pioneering around the world, and a white paper would not have done justice to the human drama of this story. 

LBB> And why was a documentary series the right format to express and explore the ideas you’d come across?

RP> A documentary enabled us to put women front and centre as the subject of the narrative, not the object. We didn’t want to just describe this phenomenon, we wanted the women themselves to tell their own stories, and as a result we’ve captured something that on the one hand has gravitas and authenticity, but equally is incredibly personal and intimate – and we think as a result it’s a really emotionally affecting series.

LBB> As well as the impressive cast of high profile, powerful women there are also stories from less well known women who have some amazing stories. How did you go about digging these stories out?

RP> We’ve spent over three years documenting Female Capital, so our research has been extensive, and deliberate in not just charting the progress of wealthy women in the West. It needed to feel diverse and truly global. So that helped us to identify some provocative and interesting stories of women. We also collaborated with Films of Record to identify women we’d want to feature.

LBB> Which of the interviewees particularly resonated with you and why?

RP> That’s a really difficult question to answer because so many of these women’s stories are deeply affecting. For me though, two people stand out: Dalia Grybauskaite- (President of Lithuania) – her quiet determination yet her modesty in standing up to Putin is indicative of a particular style of female leadership, which is incredibly inspiring. Equally Geena Davis – talking about women’s representation in popular culture and film highlights why we need female role models, why we need to be making women’s achievement much more visible, and that really touched a nerve, and reinforced the need to make Her Story.

LBB> What was the process of pitching the idea to the BBC like? How did it differ from the process of getting a greenlight on an advertising project?

RP> We didn’t really ‘pitch’ the idea to the BBC, we wanted to work with the BBC as a broadcaster with huge integrity and a kite-mark of quality. We shared our ideas with them early on in the process, and they shared our interest and passion in the idea and from there we worked together as part of a very collaborative process alongside Films of Record. 

LBB> And from a production point of view, how did that differ from the sort of advertising projects you’ve worked on?

RP> Working within the medium of long form content enabled us to craft and create a story, although in 50 minutes it still felt challenging given the amount of material we had to work with. This was different in that we weren’t ‘selling’ anything, but nevertheless we had a creative idea, around Female Capital, and so we had the time to shape a really interesting and affecting story. 

LBB> How long did it take to get the series from conception to execution?

RP> It’s had a long gestation period. We’ve been working on this for over two years, and as you can imagine, the process of filming around the world, getting access to these women, and then editing was considerable. It’s not something that could be rushed. 

LBB> What was the most challenging aspect of the project? And the most rewarding?

RP> I think getting access to these women; the world couldn’t stop for us, this isn’t like casting an ad, we had to wait for the right time, or in some cases the production team would be travelling to some dangerous places or equally needed to respect the safety and security of the women we featured. It was a complex process, but definitely worth it.  

LBB> With one documentary series under your belt, are you planning to create more or explore the area further?

RP> Like we said, it was challenging to take all the material and condense it into four episodes, so we’re already thinking about how we’d continue to expand on Her Story and this idea of Female Capital. I think also the world is in motion, as our research reinforced, there’s never been a better time to be a woman, so there’s no shortage of material!

LBB> During the process of making the documentary and gaining insight from all of these amazing women, did you learn anything that you think could apply to the advertising industry?  

RP> That women bring a unique perspective to the world, they look at the world through a different lens. We need this perspective in our businesses, we need it in our schools, in our parliaments, our innovation labs. Women create value, as women – it’s Female Capital, and we believe it’s the foundation of a long-term sustainable business.  

LBB> If people take one thing away from the series, what do you hope that is?

RP> There’s a quiet revolution out there, and it’s called Female Capital, and once you embrace that idea it becomes very difficult to marginalise women’s achievement… it also makes me proud to be a woman.