Uprising in association withThe Immortal Awards

Uprising: Why Shawna Guevara Wants to Be Remembered as a Game-Changer

Advertising Agency
Kansas City, USA
LBB’s Ben Conway speaks with Shawna Guevara, campaign program manager at VMLY&R to discuss her story so far, the Dear Black Talent initiative and her philanthropic passions

The ‘foundation of the woman she was to become’ was set from a young age for VMLY&R’s Shawna Guevara, a ‘proud Afro Latina’ she believes that her ‘superpowers’ come from her ancestors and parents.

“Their strong blood runs through my veins,” she says. “My mother, Diana, was raised in Mississippi during school integration. She faced intense adversity at a young age, yet never let that determine her self-worth. She went on to own several successful businesses, including a home health agency and a property management company. A constant reminder that if she can handle that, then I can handle anything!”

Also a self-confessed ‘daddy’s girl’, the first 10 years of Shawna’s life as an only child meant that both of her parents had a considerable influence on her development. “With his focus, attention, and love, I developed into a well-rounded, forward-thinking woman. I was provided the space to explore, dream, and create without boundaries, which informs my strategic thinking, determination, and overall vision today.” Shawna also says that she developed ‘self-discipline, self-love and expression’ through a diligent, seven-year-long ballet dancing schedule.

Later on in life, whilst studying marketing at Texas A&M University, a supportive professor told her that she ‘was born for advertising’ and that they ‘could not wait to see her take the world by storm’ - a rousing endorsement that sparked a relationship which Shawna maintains today: “I have always kept in contact with her, sharing my achievements along the way. Thank you, Professor Carey, for your intuitive words and continued support.” After completing her MBA, Shawna moved to California and worked for ‘employee-focused companies’ including Clif Bar and Annie’s Homegrown, before returning to Texas, attracted by the similar corporate culture and holistic wellness programs of VMLY&R.

Reminiscing on those early working days, she highlights ‘soft skills’ as a forgotten relic that goes relatively underappreciated nowadays, despite considering them to be just as important. “Soft skills never go out of style. Creativity, problem-solving, communication and collaboration… While we no longer list these skills on our resume, we should strive to demonstrate them in our everyday work environments.” These are just some of the skills and experiences that help Shawna’s daily responsibilities as a ‘rock star campaign manager’, driving VMLY&R’s integrated marketing campaigns. This role includes resource forecasting, team-leadership duties and campaign driving across a variety of mediums - social, digital, email and traditional - and has seen rapid changes with the introduction of new project management tools like Asana and Basecamp. “These tools allow program managers to communicate more effectively with our teams, reduce the number of meetings and stay on top of client deliverables. What’s not to love about that?” 

Just two weeks into her job - and a new side of the industry -  at VMLY&R, Shawna undertook her first advertising project, resourcing a creative team for a telecommunications campaign. Unfamiliar with most of her team members, she took the initiative to identify their needs, introduce herself and form a cohesive unit all in one: “I held an internal meeting I called ‘Coffee with Creatives’. I took the time to get to know my creative team, their strengths and challenges over a hot cup of coffee and some fun game show-style questions. We walked away from that day more in tune and ready to take the advertising industry by storm TOGETHER!”

Inclusivity within the workplace is a passion for Shawna, who not only brings her personal cultural experience and insight as a ‘proud Afro Latina’, but also as someone who has transitioned into the ad agency life at a later stage of her career. She says: “Creativity is not just for creatives. Ideas and inspiration can come from anyone and anywhere!” Shawna also serves within VMLY&R’s inclusion team as the corporate communications and marketing delivery lead, partnering with senior leadership to detect trends, identify potential barriers, and seize opportunities to integrate diversity and inclusion into their talent management.

“Our framework is to generate and facilitate authentic, consistent, and regular messages in both major industry press and BIPOC media outlets. Additionally, we are working to proactively cultivate and promote BIPOC thought leadership across disciplines in press, conference appearances, and other speaking events.” She continues: “Lastly, we prioritise internal marketing comms to feature transformation gains, success, partnerships, progress and talent.” 

On a related note, the 4A’s Foundation has partnered with VMLY&R to launch the initiative ‘Dear Black Talent’, through which Shawna hopes to utilise her leadership background and DEI experience to offer ‘speaking engagements, diversity consulting, DEI workshops and maybe even a book’. “I believe the work I am doing for ‘Dear Black Talent’ is monumental,” she says. “It’s this simple -  advertising shapes culture; I want to ensure that diverse talent is in the room to shape advertising.” Designed to empower the next generation of Black leaders in advertising, the initiative consists of a recruitment platform that attracts young Black talent to the industry, assists those wanting to return to the industry and helps individuals within the industry with professional development.

“The site opens new doors for careers in advertising and connects talent to agencies dedicated to advocating for and improving diversity within the advertising and media agency partners who have a commitment to diversifying their talent pools. The reaction to ‘Dear Black Talent’ has been electrifying. The outpour of support from agencies and media partners that have made a commitment to diversity is energising.”

Outside of work, Shawna has established a weekly routine that always includes a date night to make memories and connect with her ‘solace and biggest supporter’, husband Ricardo. Perhaps unexpectedly, a new addition to this recreational schedule is beekeeping - and she hopes to become a registered apprentice beekeeper after a year of owning a colony. “While bees might make my heart buzz,” she says, “my real passion is philanthropy. Since 2015, I have served as a volunteer for Be My Eyes, an app that connects the vision-impaired with sighted volunteers through a live feed. Additionally, I volunteer to feed the homeless through a group in Dallas called Random Acts of Kindness. In 2019, we were able to set the Guinness world record for the most sandwiches made in an hour. All sandwiches were donated to the homeless throughout Dallas.”

Empowered by the thought of financial freedom, Shawna states that she is ‘building an empire’ - and is already excited about the 2022 prospects for her several businesses. Like the inspiring stories she recalls of celebrities from poor backgrounds becoming successful- Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey to name a couple - Shawna believes that dreams and goals are made possible through a strong work ethic. “Admittedly, my biggest motivator is my daughter, Nea. She remembers when it was just us two - I was working full time and attending graduate school to make life better for her. I don’t want her to ever struggle the way I had to. 

Ultimately, what drives Shawna’s passion both inside and outside of her working life is a sense of ‘achieving and maximising’ her personal growth in a way that allows her to share her expertise and effort with others:

“I would like to be remembered as someone who made a difference for the BIPOC community; an advocate that put her blood, sweat and tears into making a more inclusive society - not just in marketing and advertising - but in the world. I want to be remembered as a game-changer.”

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