5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with... Nancy Reyes

Advertising Agency
New York, USA
The newly promoted chief executive officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about growth in clients and people during 2020, treating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion “as a client”, and life lessons learned growing up in Queens, NY

Nancy Reyes was elevated to chief executive officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day New York back in April. The promotion means Nancy has assumed full leadership of the agency from Rob Schwartz, who was CEO since 2015 (and has since moved into the new role of chair of the freshly formed TBWA New York Group). It marks a steady rise since Nancy joined the agency as managing director in April 2016, becoming president in July 2018.

Nancy and Rob's partnership on the executive leadership has seen them lead the agency through a period of 180% growth over five years. What's more, despite the difficulties of 2020, TBWA\Chiat\Day New York grew, winning new assignments from PepsiCo (bubly, RISE and lays), Facebook Oculus and Abbott, and adding 120 new employees. 

A few months into the new role, LBB's Addison Capper was thrilled to be able to pick Nancy's brains about plans for the TBWA, her formulated and effective approach to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and how her attraction to 'team' stems from growing up in Queens, NY. 

LBB> Congratulations on the promotion! You've been the MD, president and now CEO of TBWA New York. How do you see your new role compared to the previous ones? 

Nancy> Firstly, thank you! 

The past five years have been an incredible journey that’s only been possible through partnership - with our leadership team, clients and every person who works at the agency. I am so proud of the creative ideas we’ve brought to life together, the growth of our people and the talent that is making beautiful ideas a reality on behalf of our clients. 

I’ve never led a company during a pandemic before so that’s been an interesting challenge but we were such a strong company going into the pandemic and that has helped us sort our path forward. 

LBB> What are going to be your main focuses as CEO of the agency? What do you hope / want to achieve? 

Nancy> Creativity and growth. Sometimes I think we chase everything in this industry when what makes us happy, what makes our people happy, our clients happy is the work. I hope to create the conditions for people to make the best work of their lives. And with that will come growth - creativity in new ways and new spaces but always creativity above all. 

LBB> TBWA\Chiat\Day New York has grown in the past year, which is really positive all things considered. What has that experience been like? How have you ridden that wave of uncertainty to come out stronger? 

Nancy> We went into the pandemic in a state of strength which allowed us to lean even harder into everything that makes us succeed. It certainly hasn’t been without challenges but the core of who we are has allowed us to face those challenges in a stronger way. It’s always true, I think, that if your foundation and values are strong then that’s what you lean on when trouble comes your way. On the other side, you come out stronger than ever.

Amid the pressures of 2020, we were fortunate to welcome new clients on our roster from PepsiCo (bubly, RISE and lays), Facebook Portal and Abbott. And 120 new employees joined the agency. Of course, I never want to feel like it’s done or we have checked all the boxes - but you have to celebrate every small bit of progress.

LBB> You've also really ramped up the agency diversity efforts. Can you speak a bit more about the changes you have made? 

Nancy> I would love to.

Several years ago I created the agency’s Circle of Women program, which provides executive coaching for a high potential group of 24 women on the cusp of leadership. From day one, at least half of the program’s participants have been women of colour. And one program requirement is that the participating women reach back and mentor someone coming up behind them. 

Fast forward to 2021, we’re on the journey of making long overdue changes to address systemic inequities within the industry.

At TBWA\Chiat\Day New York we treat Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a client, serviced by a 100 person team of volunteers. Clients are an agency's highest priority, and Diversity receives the same level of prioritisation and dedication.

  • In July 2020, we made a commitment to fill its 50+ open positions with talent from underrepresented groups. And we also redesigned our recruitment process to reduce bias and ensure objectivity, making structural changes to how we recruit and interview. 
  • We reignited Youngbloods, a year-round creative residency that selects high-potential creatives from diverse backgrounds who will benefit from additional training and mentorship. 
  • We reviewed our compensation policies and practices to ensure all employees, regardless of race, ethnicity and gender, are paid fairly.  
  • We created a clear, easy to access set of resources for education, including a micro-aggressions curriculum and a guide to allyship, activities to practice learnings and growth, and mindful ways to use new understandings. 
  • To foster belonging, we regularly host Listening Circles, safe, inclusive, open spaces for employees to share, feel heard, and learn from each other’s lived experiences on issues impacting our professional and personal lives. 
  • When it comes to impacting the work, we built a process that uplifts unheard voices, marginalised communities, and diverse experiences - notable examples include our recent work for Family Equality and Facebook Portal.

LBB> Prior to TBWA you worked brand-side at Verizon. What was your experience like of working at a brand? And how has it informed your career agency-side since? 

Nancy> Before working client-side, I would have labelled myself a very good account person. But the truth is, I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was. Verizon helped me appreciate the incredible pressures and challenges that our clients face on an even deeper level - from internal sales goals to expectations from the street, to the constant need to prove the effectiveness of marketing. To be a client is a serious operation and I realised that too often we have these great big crazy ideas on the agency side which don’t always make sense for our clients. How do we connect creativity to business more intentionally? How can business inspire creativity? And how can creativity more intentionally drive business?

LBB> You're born and bred in NYC. What was your childhood like? Were you a creative kid would you say? 

Nancy> I am indeed. I was raised in Queens. Money wasn’t easy to come by in my family, and from a young age I was taught the value of hard work and earning every penny. That was hard, to be honest but I’m now sort of obsessed with the idea of earning EVERYTHING. My sister and I had to contribute to the family financially from a very young age. There was no shame in that. It was a lesson in hard work - the mission was to get food on the table each day. But a lack of resources inspires incredible problem solving skills, especially when there is a singular purpose. We realised we could secure more money if my sister and I collected bottles or accompanied my mother to clean houses - we could get a lot more done together. I’m certain that’s where my attraction to ‘team’ comes from. 

LBB> Your first awareness of the ad industry as a career came from an organisation called Prep for Prep. Can you tell me a bit more about that? And what was it about advertising that hooked you?

Nancy> I was introduced to Prep for Prep when I was 10. Prep for Prep finds promising inner city public school students of colour and helps them prepare for elite private schools and boarding schools in NY. It’s a rigorous educational program that follows its students beyond college. When I was in my senior year of college, they introduced me to Ogilvy who was, at the time, looking to diversify their employee base. While I had a job already lined up in consulting, I fell in love with the allure of advertising - the ability to create ideas that solve a problem, or find an opportunity in everything to build a brand and care for that brand as if it was a part of your family. It was intoxicating.

LBB> What was your path like from that moment? What was your first real job in the industry and what do you remember from that time? 

Nancy> I was an assistant account executive at Ogilvy for two years working on IBM. I remember Shelly Lazarus coming in to speak to all the assistant AEs and AEs during a training course and she told us that the account executive was the most important job at an agency because, at the end of the day, the client will always want to know who their partner is. And that person will inevitably be the one who gets it done. 

I would say my first real experience with creativity came when I worked at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, almost five years after I started in advertising. I hadn’t yet seen the power of an idea until I saw ‘Sheet Metal’ - an ad for Saturn. There was no turning back after that. 

LBB> Which projects from your career are you most proud of? 

Nancy> Since joining the agency in 2016 I’ve been fortunate to work alongside a number of incredibly creative, intelligent minds to produce projects I’m seriously proud of.

Notably, some of our most powerful work has been establishing the brand platforms Unfinished Stories for Travelers, As Good As the Original, Maybe Even Better for Mountain Dew and Share Something Real for Facebook Portal.

And most recently, we partnered with Family Equality to showcase the complicated path to parenthood for the LGBTQ+ community in Love, Lawyers and the Government - part of our agency’s continued effort to lead the industry with breakthrough innovative thinking.

LBB> Outside of work and leadership, what do you get up to? 

Nancy> I have an incredibly supportive husband and two young girls I love dearly. When I’m not working, I focus on being present around the ones I love. I’m a soccer mom and 100% proud of it. 

I’m an avid reader - but admittedly hate business books. I love when literature and history come together - please read anything from Colson Whitehead. 

I’m also fortunate to sit on the board for Prep for Prep - the program I credit for not only saving my life but actively helping me get on the path I find myself on now. 

From an industry perspective, I’m a board member of the Ad Council and on the Board of Directors of the Advertising Club of New York.

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