For Rubini Gunartanam working in the creative industry was on the cards from a young age. As someone who often let their imagination get the better of them she jokes that this skill is one that is “pretty useful as a creative”. But, growing up life wasn’t all that quaint.
Rubini describes herself as being of Chinese, Malaysian and Sri Lankan descent and growing up in Queensland, she was no stranger to racism. She says: “I witnessed casual and not-so-casual racism, most days. And from people you least expect. It’s so entrenched in our everyday ‘okka’isms’ that we rarely stop and question – wait, what does it really mean if you call someone a ‘cool Asian’? Are you in fact implying that Asians aren’t ‘cool’? Experiences like this compel me to continue challenging prejudice — even my own — and reassess if what we’re casually saying is just casually really, hurtful.”
These experiences had a lasting effect on Rubini who now finds the debates around representation in the industry something that really riles her. “I know, I know – we’re making progress. But we still have a long way to go. Only a few years ago, I remember watching something that gave me all the feels. Like, all. The. Feels. And it was because, for the first time, there was a diverse cast (not just of extras). When you see people on screen that look like you, their message actually sits with you.” Couple this with Rubini’s childhood experiences with racism and you can understand why she says she “thinks twice” every time she’s casting.
But, her advocacy for equality doesn’t stop there and after successfully lobbying ‘Working from Home. Period’ at M&C Saatchi to “normalise periods and empower women to say when they need time to work from the comfort of their own home,” she is now working on an industry initiative to help tackle racism.
Hearing about Rubini’s positive contributions to the industry and her drive to be heard it's no surprise that she describes herself as a “100% youngest child. This essentially means I’ll stop at nothing to get my own way – which isn’t all that bad when you’re selling an idea in, right?”
Rewind a few years before her stint as copywriter at M&C Saatchi in Australia and Rubini studied for a degree in business and media communication with a major in advertising. She recalls: “It did lead me to my year ‘studying’ abroad in Copenhagen. A long stint of sporadic classes, meeting people from all over the world, pondering if I was ‘creative’ as I sampled another cinnamon swirl, even some interning with the BBC – all these experiences gave me the confidence to finally say ‘fuck it, I’m going to try to get into creative’.” And so she did.
After a role in digital marketing which she says “had a few too many spreadsheets for my liking” Rubini made the “disgustingly deliberate” decision to get into the advertising industry. “Internships, coffees after coffees, and of course the 12-week anxiety-soaked course that is AWARD School”. Reflecting on those early years Rubini’s biggest lesson was, in her words: “Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.”
Looking to the future Rubini hopes to see more “ads that don’t look like ads” but finds frustration with bold ideas that are “thrown in as wildcards to show clients ‘we’re thinking’”. However, she does hope that the future of the industry is also focussed on the health and well-being of employees. “Lots of industries have some sort of gym pass hook-ups. Not that we’d have heaps of time to go, but it’d be nice to have y’know?”
Keeping fit is a must for Rubini, who tells those who scoff at her hobbies of yoga, reality TV and puppy playdates: “Yes. I’m basic, but so what?”. Although let’s be honest, the fact that she didn’t make sourdough during lockdown knocks her down the basic scale a lot. “Instead of sourdough, I made a few hot sauces during lockdown. It’s all fun and games until the fire of 14 habaneros remains beneath your fingernails.”
So, where does she get her drive from? “The thrill of my next idea. It’s probably the youngest child in me, but I’m super impatient and after years of losing ‘shotgun front seat’, I'm pretty good at finding ways to entertain myself.” For someone who has to entertain and engage many through engaging campaigns, our bet is that Rubini is one who will stop at nothing to succeed at what she puts her mind to.