Advertising exec Anna Banks recently made advertising trade magazine Ad Age’s “Women to Watch” list. And there is no question as to why. As a digital strategist, her expertise is much sought after. At Organic Inc., she leads a team whose responsibility is developing cross-platform digital strategies for marketers such as Kimberly-Clark, Nike, Visa and Quaker.
Having studied at Harvard and Radcliffe, she graduated in one of the last classes to receive a degree bearing the Radcliffe name. While there, she focused her senior thesis on the evolving image of the African-American woman in print advertising.
Banks worked for various agencies, including McCann Worldgroup. She went on to participate, as a fellow, in multinational advertising and public relations company WPP’s MBA marketing program during which time she helped launch a new division at JWT Global Advertising Agency that combined digital content and traditional media. In 2009, she joined Organic.
TNJ.com : Your senior thesis was on the evolving image of the African-American woman in print advertising. How have things evolved over the last five years?
Anna Banks: I wrote my senior thesis over 20 years ago, so we have seen significant evolution in the image of the African-American woman in advertising. There is definitely a larger presence of African-American women in mainstream media. It is now possible to see an African-American woman as the main spokesperson for a make-up brand for example— not just the version of the ad that runs in Black magazines. In the last five years it is much more common to see multi-racial groups of people in ads— and African American women to be included.
TNJ.com: Do you feel advertising overlooks the Black consumer, or do you feel this is changing?
AB: Economic buying power should determine where companies focus their spending. But the assumption is still that African American spending power can best be targeted via mainstream media. The solution companies seems to turn to is to add little diversity into their mainstream advertising. We’ve made some progress, but there is still room for much more sophistication in targeting African Americans.
TNJ.com: Social media has changed the world of advertising. How do you see things developing over the next few years?
AB: Social media will play an even bigger role in our purchasing decisions. And it will be more personal. Reviews, for example, are highly influential, but if it is a review from someone in your personal network it has even more impact. For example, for one consumer product brand we [at Organic] work on, we are running a large campaign in Facebook— we are able to target a specific demographic to encourage them to “like” our brand, join the discussion and share with a friend. The endorsement of the brand by one of our consumers has more weight than our ads but our ad spending is a necessary catalyst to get the conversation started.
TNJ.com: What advice would you give a small business with a very limited advertising budget?
AB: Do your homework before spending any money on advertising. There are some critical questions to ask:
• What differentiates my product or service from others in my category? What is special or unique about what I have to offer?
• When I think about those unique qualities, who do they appeal to? How can I adapt my offering to be even more appealing to this core target audience?
• What do I know about my target audience? How do they make purchase decisions for my product? When is the best time to influence their opinion and how can I best reach them?
Once these questions are answered, the small business can begin to build out a plan that spends money where it can have the greatest impact.
TNJ.com: Why do you feel there are very few African-American women on the digital side of marketing?
AB: I believe there are three dimensions to bringing greater diversity to advertising and digital marketing–
1. Seeing the Opportunity. More young people need to see and understand the opportunities for careers “behind the camera” in the advertising and marketing industry. Everyone sees the ads, but they don’t know or understand what goes into making them. Before they can aspire to roles that move and shake an industry, they have to be aware the roles exist. Kids grow up wanting to be a doctor or lawyer, a musician or an athlete… if they don’t know it exists, or how it could fit with their personal strengths, they are not going to spend time dreaming about being a digital media strategist.
2. Knowing the skills needed as well as the access to acquire them. The second piece of the puzzle is knowing the right set of skills needed to be successful candidates for that first job and the subsequent career path. Sometimes these are specialty skills like project management or statistics but basic skills like English and math can be just as critical success factors.
3. Access to contacts. The marketing and advertising communities are large, but tight networks. Having a mentor or connection can be critical to breaking into an organization— or navigating the path to success once you get there.
TNJ.com: I understand you interned and worked in Africa. Do you see the Continent as an untapped resource?
AB: Actually, in the mid-nineties I worked as a marketing consultant at an Internet services start up in Nairobi, Kenya. Africa is definitely an untapped resource. The Economist calls Africa the fastest growing continent. In the next decade, there will be so many new and exciting business opportunities. When I graduated from business school, it was not as common for my African friends to move back home to the Continent right after graduation. Now, many see opportunities that are immediately drawing them back home to contribute their skills.
TNJ.com: What have been some career obstacles you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
AB: Finding situations and roles that allow you to live up to your potential can be really challenging. Having a career coach and mentor have been critical in helping me navigate the waters. A second voice can help with the decision-making process. Sometimes you need someone who is not as close to the situation to help you strategize on your next move— whether it is within your current organization, or time to move on to the next one.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
AB: I love that I work in a space that is continually evolving and changing. The industry I work in didn’t even exist when I graduated from college, and was still really new when I finished business school. I’ve seen rapid evolution in the role social media and mobile devices play in our everyday lives. I also love working with smart people to try to figure out new and innovative ways to connect with consumers.
TNJ.com: What was the most important career advice you received and from whom?
AB: Focus on building and maintaining strong personal and professional networks. It came from my “Power and Influence” professor in business school.