Meet the new Phyllis generation


Issue 62: The Phyllis Project

Gender Equality: Start to Walk the Talk

Post-truth may have been the word of 2016, but for those of us in advertising, it was the year we had to be honest with ourselves. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the sexism and lack of diversity that permeate our industry. We cannot shrug off gender inequality as a cultural problem or try to alleviate our guilt with panel discussions and culture days. For an industry so dependent on its talent and its ability to connect with people, remaining idle on these issues is not only shameful – it’s stupid.

To be honest, I never feel I’m qualified to speak out about gender inequality. I’m certainly not perfect. But that’s just the point. It’s not a comfortable topic, particularly for us men. We have to be willing to admit our own unconscious bias – and maybe even some conscious ones – if we really want and believe in change.

I’ve always felt lucky to be working at DDB and to have a legacy to reflect on when questioning the way forward or when needing to find the courage of my convictions. It’s no surprise there was plenty of inspiration to pull from here, too. There is no better case study of the value of a diverse creative department than DDB’s. No bar graphs or revenue growth charts could ever map out what that mixed bag of streetwise creatives delivered.

Remember those guys who wrote “Why try harder?” for Avis, “You don’t have to be Jewish” for Levy’s, and came up with the ballsy “Lemon” headline for VW? Well, they were all female copywriters.

Of course, no woman was more of a pioneer than DDB’s longtime VP, Phyllis Robinson, who was our agency’s first copy chief as well as the first female copy chief in U.S. history. If Bill Bernbach can be called the father of modern advertising, Phyllis was most certainly our mother.

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Phyllis Robinson

As DDB’s first and only copywriter at its founding – and the first female copy chief in U.S. history – Phyllis Robinson broke all the rules and opened doors for many women (and men) who followed. She promoted an atmosphere of creative freedom and respect where people had the opportunity to take chances and where diverse opinions were valued and nurtured. We are proud to launch the Phyllis Project as a tribute to her vision, intelligence and trailblazing contributions to our industry. To read more on Phyllis, visit

“An important part of my personal style of direction and teaching was to encourage everyone in his own idiom, in his own personal way of doing things…There would be no point in having many, many little Bill Bernbachs and Phyllis Robinsons, a sort of assembly line product. Instead we have all these wonderful strains of all these people intermingling.”

Phyllis Robinson

Caroline Beckert

“I hope that at some point in the near future, …we will have succeeded in creating a reality in which young women don’t have to be given anything, but simply know that anything is theirs for the taking.”


Carla Alonso Cancellara

“What’s the point of having diversity if we are all going to behave in the same way? (In my ideal agency environment) abilities, skillsets and backgrounds complement each other, which generates better decision-making and better results.”


“Freedom carries with it a tremendous responsibility. Not only in world affairs. In making ads too. The responsibility to do the right thing with that freedom. It’s not enough to say, “Whee! I’m free!” An idea isn’t good just because it’s wacky. A headline for a trade ad isn’t good just because it’s the only slangy line in a bookful of catalog-type ads. The ad has to do the job it’s supposed to do, just as effectively as you know how.”

Phyllis Robinson