5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly
5 Minutes with… Meryl Draper
Advertising Agency
New York, USA
The founder of Quirk Creative speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about how working in Silicon Valley shaped the way she built her agency, why the agency pitch process needs dismantling, and long dog walks in the Dordogne

Meryl Draper has spent time at both well known agencies and fast growing start-ups. She began her career in public relations at Publicis Groupe agency MSLGROUP, working with clients including Cisco and Blackboard before joining Ogilvy & Mather where she oversaw IBM's advertising campaigns across 25+ global markets. Prior to founding Quirk Creative, Meryl built ad tech startup 6sense's brand from the ground up, helping secure $32 million in funding. 

Her business, Quirk Creative, is a creative ad agency specialising in video. Combining both creative strategy and production under one roof, Quirk crafts commercials, content, and campaigns for brands on social, digital, OTT/CTV and linear TV channels. Meryl has been named in the Adweek Creative 100, The Drum 50 under 30, and has led Quirk to be recognised as Inc’s Fastest Growing Companies (2019) and Adweek’s Fastest Growing Agencies (2019).

LBB's Addison Capper caught up with her for a chat.

LBB> Poking nosily around your LinkedIn, I can see account work at Ogilvy India, a marketing manager role in San Francisco and eventually Quirk, your own business, which you launched in 2015. What set you on that path to advertising / marketing in the first place? 

Meryl> I’ve always been interested in communications and shaping brand narratives. I started my career in public relations and then had the opportunity to migrate over to advertising before going brand-side and finally on to starting my own agency.

LBB> What was the inspiration behind launching Quirk? What gap in the market did you see that you wanted to fill?

Meryl> I was initially inspired by my time working at a fast-moving startup in Silicon Valley. At the time, there was lots of chatter around the lean startup methodology and how companies built with agility and nimbleness at their core could move quicker to keep up with consumer demands. I started wondering whether the traditional agency model might be disrupted as well, using some of those principles. The driving question was: Can processes promoting agility, iterative work, and nimbleness transform how ads are made? And we’ve proven this correct in the last seven years.

LBB> Quirk is a female owned agency, a rarity in adland (and like other industries). Why do you think this is still the case in 2021? Do you think things are heading in the right direction or is it still too slow?

Meryl> There are many, many reasons that women-owned agencies continue to be in the minority in this day and age: limited access to capital, lack of mentorship, systemic barriers to career progression (like inadequate maternity leave policies)… the list goes on. But things are shifting, slowly. What we need to accelerate the momentum are strategic solutions to keep women in the advertising workforce and support our career progression. And that starts with agency leaders. But brands can and should get involved by being cognizant of their own vendor diversity and committing to working with a certain percentage of women-owned agencies. 

LBB> What advice do you have for women (or anyone) thinking about founding their own business but worried about doing so?

Meryl> Stop looking for the perfect time. The reality is, the perfect time does not exist (for entrepreneurship and most things in life, to be honest). I had naivete on my side when I started Quirk; I was 25 and had no clue what I was in for. And thank goodness I didn’t know, because otherwise, I would have never started. Starting your own business requires putting blinders of sorts on and just going for it.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Meryl> I’m not and never have been a ‘rah-rah’, ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ kind of leader. I don’t believe I’m here to convince anyone to follow me – rather, I’m here to give it to people straight, and encourage and nurture my team along their own unique career paths. And that translates into a bit of a quieter, more background-style of leadership. Less smoke and mirrors. More reality checks. 

I struggled with my style of leadership for a long time because for a stretch it felt like all of the leaders I was reading and hearing about were louder and bolder and more cheerlead-y. But I’ve learned that leadership is not homogenous. There is no one style that is more effective than others.

LBB> You believe that the ad industry should dismantle the pitching process. Why? And what should come in its place? 

Meryl> Pitching spec work for free is the biggest head-scratcher. When and why did people decide doing work for free was a good idea? It makes a joke out of what is a very rigorous, resource-intensive creative process. It minimises the value of our collective work, as agencies, putting in jeopardy our existence in the long term. It perpetuates inequality. It starts the client-agency relationship off on an unbalanced footing. It takes resources away from paying clients. The list goes on.

At Quirk, we’re happy to partake in paid pitches - being compensated for the time it takes to develop sound creative strategy and resonant concepts is a reasonable ask. And I’m pleased that our stance is starting to be shared by more and more agency leaders.

LBB> We've spoken about your approach to leadership, but is there someone in the industry that you look up to or someone that has been a great mentor?  

Meryl> There are so many people who have helped me along the way throughout my career. I’ve had wonderfully nurturing bosses, people who have given me a shot when nobody else would, friends who have encouraged me… but I’ve never had a mentor in the traditional sense. I’ve had to become my own mentor.

LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you entertained / relaxed / sane / busy? 

Meryl> I recently moved to France, where I’m enjoying morning walks with my pup, Nunie, in the gorgeous Dordogne region.

Work from Quirk Creative
Bladder Weakness