A Constant State of Evolution: Rebekah Pagis, MullenLowe NY

To mark International Women’s Day, AdForum is gathering opinions from women working in advertising and marketing communications. We asked women from a range of job roles both agency- and client-side, for their view of the state of the industry. 


MullenLowe Group
Todo en uno
London, Reino Unido
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Rebekah Pagis
Managing Director MullenLowe New York

How would you describe the overall culture at your agency?

Our culture at MullenLowe New York isn’t one specific thing that can be put into a neat and tidy sentence- nor do I think it will ever be! Our culture is in a constant state of evolution as we adapt and respond to the changing and shifting societal culture at large. 

What we do tend to gravitate around at MullenLowe are a shared set of values. We are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mullen with a retrospective of work. It has been inspiring to see the impressive creative work done through the years by the agency- and to know that our entire organization was born from a set of values that started in the suburbs of Boston 50 years ago- humbleness, hard work, a true appreciation of craft, and an entrepreneurial spirit.


In your opinion, what do you see as the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the glass ceiling?

The biggest change I have seen is a shift towards extending a hand down to the next generation of women. When I was beginning my career, it felt very much like there was only space for one woman at the table, and that created a very competitive environment among women. Now, I feel there is a much more collaborative environment where women are actively looking for ways to support, encourage, and make space for each other.   


Do you think that women still face challenges in our industry, and if so, what are they?

Yes, definitely! From my perspective, the two biggest challenges facing women in our industry and throughout the United States are (a) the maternity leave policies, and (b) the unconscious bias that still exists against women in the workplace. 

The maternity leave policies in our industry, and across the US, make it both complicated and difficult for women to get the appropriate support they need (mental and physical) to come back to work and do their best. While many agencies have become more aware of the importance of supporting and recognizing the whole person (i.e.: mental health efforts )– sadly, maternity leave is a space where we need to continue to advocate for change. 

Additionally, our industry continues to be plagued by an unconscious bias against women. I think there are still way too many conversations that women have to have that men simply don’t. People are getting better in the industry regarding thinking about filtering their communications by asking “would someone say this same thing to a man?” However, the root of this is even more fundamental in that women are still having to force certain topics to be discussed (and therefore are seen as pushing a personal agenda or being too vocal) that never need to be brought forward by men because opportunities are still more readily handed to them.


How should we tackle an issue such equal opportunity?

Whoa. A big question without an easy answer. 

I think metrics and data are important in the fight for equal opportunity. I don’t think that most companies are consciously trying not to promote more women or diversity- I think they just simply aren’t aware that their structure and ways of working are set up in a way that allows white men to succeed and move up more easily. If you start pulling the data and looking at the trends, you will clearly see what is happening within your own organization: most likely women are making it to certain leadership levels and then dropping off. What is required is an openness to addressing and fixing the problem. This may mean that white men will go through a period of feeling a bit less optimistic about their place in the organization- change is not easy or comfortable, otherwise we’d already be doing it. However, pushing the change and making some people feel uncomfortable along the way likely means you are doing something right!


How did you find your way into the marketing communications industry and what professional achievement are you most proud of? 

I always knew I wanted to do marketing in some capacity. It felt like the “fun” part of the business world, and the one that was the most creative. I wasn’t aware of advertising as a career option per se but fell into advertising after a few years in a junior marketing role at LVMH.

I am the proudest of having won the Grand EFFIE with our American Greetings Clients for the “World’s Toughest Job.” Only one Grand EFFIE is given each year, so to be awarded for having helped create the most effective piece of advertising in the entire nation AND to do so with a piece of content that highlighted the role and importance of mothers was something I am not sure I will ever top!


Who inspires you the most, either inside the industry or outside? Why?

I’m not a political person, but Michelle Obama is kind of everything. I love how she constantly elevates herself above the fray and sets such an amazing example for girls and women everywhere regarding what a strong and confident woman looks like.

Within our industry there are definitely some inspirational and motivating women doing kick ass things. For me personally, Kelly Fredrickson, President of MullenLowe Boston and New York, has been an incredible source of inspiration. Her gift at recognizing and lifting up strong talent, ability to quickly and strategically find solutions to business problems, navigate the complexities of the corporate world, and to maintain such an amazingly good soul is truly inspirational.