BABE #314: KATIE JENSEN - Group Creative Director, DDB NY; Co-Host, Not OK Cupid
Katie’s an NYC-based babe with 13+ years of advertising experience in broadcast, TV, print, interactive, branding and more. By day, she’s the group creative director at DDB New York, a full-service ad agency offering marketing solutions to clients across the intersection of creativity, data and technology. By nights, weekends and any time she can squeeze it in, she’s the co-host of Not Ok Cupid, a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to the awkward, rarely satisfactory world of online dating in your late 30s. Katie shares her insights on the world of advertising, gives us a genuine, raw look into her life as a busy, loving mom and reminds us that it’s important to take a damn break once in a while.
Babe you admire and why?
I adore Amy Schumer. She is the definition of self-confidence and is constantly hustling—even doing stage sets while pregnant! She isn’t afraid to be loud and sometimes slightly vulgar in her comedy, and then she accepts the backlash and owns it. I think she redefines femininity by how completely comfortable she is with herself and her flaws. She’s a comedic genius with a bold point of view that she never, ever apologizes for. Plus, I love watching her take down internet trolls.
Favorite fictional female character? Why?
Loretta Castorini (Cher) in “Moonstruck.” She’s so level-headed and practical but then suddenly something unplanned happens that makes her reevaluate everything. I love how she has a slight edge to her but she maintains her femininity throughout every single scene. Her character inspires me to open myself to the spontaneity of life, and not always stick to a concrete plan. I think of her almost every time I look at the moon.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
I seem to gravitate towards the most expensive cold brews. $7 for a coffee? Sure, ring it up. Rosé is my go-to adult beverage. I drink it year-round. In addition to that (without sounding like I drink Monday through Sunday) I’ve also been doing this thing where I’ll watch a favorite old movie and pair it with a cocktail. “LA Confidential” paired with a White Gimlet. “Manhattan” paired with a Manhattan. It’s dorky.
Current power anthem?
“Sweet Jane,” by the Velvet Underground. It may not sound like a power anthem, but it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. I think it’s an anthem to not feeling tied to tradition, but also trusting your values along the way. And to always let love shine through no matter what’s going on in your life.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Peanut butter. Ask everyone who sits around me.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Annie Leibovitz. She’s been behind the lens for almost 50 years and as a result has created a huge chronicle of work.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
EDM. Brooklyn warehouses. Late, late Saturday nights. Let’s keep it at that.
What tools and resources help you in your day-to-day work?
Professionally, my biggest resource is the people I surround myself with. I find it’s important to constantly introduce myself to new thinking and innovation. I also still subscribe to old-school print magazines. There is something so tactile about flipping through the pages of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair. It takes my brain to places that just scrolling down a website can’t do.
Tell us about your hustle.
I have three jobs at the moment: group creative director (GCD), co-host of “Not OK Cupid Podcast” and mom. All three have different hustles involved. GCD involves a lot of brain power, as it’s a constant ping-pong of creativity and management and agency life. I love using my brain in different ways and problem-solving. The coolest part of being a creative director is constantly being able to collaborate with so many talented writers, creatives, directors and big personalities. It makes me want to hustle even harder and get off my ass. My second hustle is being co-host of “Not OK Cupid.” Ani and I started this weekly podcast in January and it’s been wonderful. I think it’s so important to pursue creativity outside of advertising and this has been such a fulfilling part of my life. My role as co-host is to ask questions and be the voice of encouragement to Ani in this crazy dating game. We try to push the comedy as much as we can, but also be our true selves. There’s a lot of hustle involved trying to get “Not OK Cupid” out in the world and get it noticed. We’re taking calls with various platforms and just trying to market ourselves. Shameless plug: Seriously, sponsor us. Please? We’re needy. And then my third hustle, the most important job I’ll ever have: mom. My 3.5-year-old, Nina, is my favorite person on the planet. She keeps me hustling by never quite being satisfied with the level of snacks I provide. My main goal in life is to keep her the happiest I possibly can. She is a wonderful, outgoing, slightly dramatic ginger, much like myself.
What does your typical workday look like?
I start my day at 5:45 a.m. I use the early-morning quiet to stay disciplined about my workout and focus on myself. If I don’t, I don’t feel grounded. Nina is usually awake shortly after and is demanding snacks before the sun rises. Then, caffeine, caffeine, caffeine. During my commute to work I listen to podcasts or read one of the two to three books I’m tackling at the moment. Once I get to the office, I’ll connect with my partner Ani on the plan for the day. We have been a creative team since 2015 and we came onto DDB as GCDs a few months ago. The team dynamic in advertising is really interesting. It has to be a true partnership for it to ever be a success. We work really well together and as a result have been able to also launch “Not OK Cupid” in our free time. After work I usually run home to give Nina more snacks and spend some QT with her. It’s a long workday, but I absolutely love it.
How often do you experience creative burnouts? How do you remedy them?
I’m a workaholic, so burnouts happen. Usually they come from circling the same problem for too long, or just a general fear of never being able to come up with something original ever again. I relate so much to Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall, because some moments do feel like a constant questioning of “am I smart enough to do this?” I try to recognize the self-doubt, deal with it and then build myself back up. Michelle Obama (in “Becoming”) talks about how she repeats “Am I good enough? Yes I am.” This helped me so much. I have to choose to get that dark stuff out and let in room for all the good stuff. Fill your brain and your heart with outside creativity. I will listen to an album I’ve never heard, or stand below a huge Hilma af Klint painting at the Guggenheim. These are the moments that get you back in the game and inspire you to see how boundless creativity is.
Tell us about “Not OK Cupid.”
“Not OK Cupid” has brought me so much joy. I co-host with my friend and partner Ani. She’s one of the funniest humans I’ve ever known, and I’m inspired by how her brain works. We’ve always overshared with each other, and one day she was telling me about a date she’d recently been on. Apparently the guy had worked in a slaughterhouse over the summer, just for funsies. We proceeded to make joke after joke and eventually we decided we had to record it. Thus, “Not OK Cupid” was born. If you want to hear the full story, give the podcast a listen! The basic premise is that Ani has been out of the dating world for a bit and my job is to push her right back into it. We talk about all of the dating apps, we interview guests and we apologize to our moms a ton. All of the editing, marketing and branding is done by us and our friends. It’s been truly fulfilling and I’m proud of Ani and how awesome and brave she has been. We’re promoting the hell out of it, and when it hits the top of the Apple Charts we’re going to drink 400 glasses of rosé.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
The female role in advertising has changed so much, even since I first started in the early 2000s. I’ve had the privilege of being exposed many strong women in various leadership roles and it’s taught me so much. I think there is a misconception that there has to be a linear path when it comes to work, family and a career. I completely disagree. I’ve found that as a woman, if there isn’t a clear path—whether it be because it hasn’t been forged yet or there are just a lot of obstacles—then you have to make your own. Whereas a lot of my male counterparts have an archetype to look up to, it hasn’t really existed for women in this industry until recently. I think the most important thing is to keep lifting other women up. Support them. Hire them. Go to their openings or their shows or their talks. Talk about their work. The talent is there, we just need to lift it up.
What female-specific challenges do you face in your day-to-day work?
I think advertising has portrayed women to be a certain way for a long time. We’re faced with unrealistic bodies and personalities, and it ultimately makes us not feel worthy. I think it’s a big challenge as a female creative to stand up to those stereotypes and be the voice in the room to change it. I should also say, I feel a responsibility to change it. Personally, I would say that the biggest female-specific challenge would be that moms need more support. For example, some days it’s hard to balance my time when I have 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. meetings scheduled. I have a responsibility at home to my daughter. It’s a victory that I have a beautiful, thriving daughter, but honestly it’s a daily challenge to balance it all.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I do find that there are more and more female creatives and female leaders in the ad industry. The past has always felt a little bit like a boys club, but the tides have shifted and female leadership is booming. I’ve been lucky to have mostly female creative directors, and they tend to attract other stellar female talent into the creative department. The next step is to make sure women creatives are also on the good briefs. We too can work on beer and video games and cars. We can also pitch, present and lead. And then beyond good briefs, it’s then making sure women are actually being pushed to create award-winning work and get acknowledged for it. It’s so important for females creatives (like Ani and I) to lift up other women in their roles and push for them to do good work. I’m relentlessly positive about where this industry is evolving, and with creative leadership like I’ve been exposed to, the only way is up.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
One of the biggest obstacles I faced was my own anxiety about having Nina and how it would affect my career. Would I be looked at differently? Would I fit in? Would I be seen as not choosing my career first? Would I have time to take care of a kid? I finally took the plunge, and she has been the best thing to ever happen to me. I know now I can’t do it all, and there is freedom in that. Before Nina (B.N.) I assumed I would somehow juggle every single thing in my life with grace. Now, I see the freedom in sometimes failing and being a hot mess. I’m no longer afraid to raise my hand and say, “Sorry guys, I have to pick up my kid so I’m going to miss the end of this meeting.” I’ve realized people respect you for it, and I’ve proven I always get the work done with zero guilt trips from my coworkers. That’s not to say I don’t give them to myself on a daily basis, but that’s part of the process. There have been times where I’ve had to plop her in front of the iPad because Mommy has to take a conference all. Or, I have to miss a meeting because she’s sick or I don’t have coverage. But those moments pass, and it’s made me a better, more responsible, use-every-second-of-the-day, kickass mom creative. And I’m proud of it.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your role?
My biggest strength is that I can truly shrug off the small stuff. Advertising has given me really thick skin and has also instilled the belief that there will always be more opportunities. So, you didn’t sell through that beloved script with the ultra-famous celeb that takes place on an island? Fine, give me another brief. Lost a pitch? That’s OK, let’s get another one in the door. Relentless positivity goes a long way and it’s a must in this life. It fuels my relationships in this role and in everything I do.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
My boss (and friend) Lisa Topol, Co-CCO of DDB. She has taught me a few key things: First, never be afraid to make yourself heard in a room. Sure, some may see you as being “difficult” or “demanding,” but in order to achieve any sort of success in this business we must stand up and fight for good work. It’s easy to just be agreeable, but that doesn’t move the needle. Second, she has taught me you must have passions outside of advertising. It’s what you see beyond the walls of the agency that can really set creativity on fire. And third, she has taught me presentation is everything. If you can come into a room and be an actual human and connect with people, you can sell anything. Be funny. Be smart. And above all, be nice.
What does your approach to work-life balance look like?
I have a lot of balls in the air, and it’s hard to stay balanced. I find the best way is to stay relentlessly positive. I mean it. Find the good in every situation, even though sometimes it seems there isn’t any. I also rely heavily on my family and friends to sometimes pick up the slack when I just can’t do it all, whether it’s that I can’t make it home in time to get Nina or having to work on a weekend. It’s hard to admit you can’t do it all and that sometimes you have to relinquish control, but the upside is that Nina has become wonderfully independent as a result. I am working on this unplug and unwind thing. It’s a hard thing for me to do, but I will get better. Wine helps.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
First, if you can’t find your role in this world then create it for yourself. When we take off the restrictions we put on ourselves, creativity can be boundless. And second, don’t let your career take over your life. Yes, dig in and work hard, but maintain the balance. You only get one life, and when you step outside of the office and live that life it makes you even more successful and creative. So, meet for that drink. Take that vacation. Have the kid. Get the dog. Write the script. Pitch the idea. (Those last two are me pep-talking myself). When I look back at my life, it’s those spontaneous late nights, or moments with Nina, or laughing with Ani on the podcast I will cherish most.
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