Absolutely Mara-Velous!

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Aug 09, 2018

Following up with the creative entrepreneur and Next Creative Leaders winner

When The One Club for Creativity teamed up with The 3% Movement to create Next Creative Leaders in 2015, we knew there would be both surprise and certainty in honoring women who are destined to become our industry's future executives. The surprise: the fact that we wouldn't know from which walks of life our winners would come. The certainty: they would definitely come.

Fast foward to 2018 and we are thrilled to present our fourth year of this crucial program. We've had hundreds of submissions and nominations over the previous three years, and we have high hopes this time around. But from all of these highly talented and qualified women who enter, only a select few will take home the honor.

Ahead of the August 19th deadline, we are highlighting some past Next Creative Leaders winners, to illustrate just how high the bar is set — both in the competition and in the creative industry. Today we are highlighting Mara Lecocq, a New York-based creative entrepreneur and Next Creative Leaders 2016 winner.

When you were named one of The One Club's Next Creative Leaders back in 2016, you were already breaking out of a "traditional" advertising path, opting to go freelance and work on your own passion projects. And now you're moving away from advertising and becoming an entrepreneur. How has that transition been?

After the launch of Secret Code in the fall of 2016, I freelanced part time in order to bootstrap my company. I have now gone full time since the beginning of this year. It’s truly a humbling experience to transition from the comfort of an advertising paycheck to the hustle of an entrepreneur.

What have been some of the joys and challenges of it all?

To remove any glamor behind this, being an entrepreneur are other words for being broke. You’re pouring your life (and savings) into your vision and gambling on your future. It does bring joy to see the hustle pay off by getting great PR, winning competitions for grants or accelerators, and being encouraged by successful entrepreneurs. But there is a price to pay. Life is about trade offs. That’s my biggest learning. You. Cannot. Have. It. All. It’s a very “feminine” thing to say “How can I have it all?” but that just sets us up for eternal disappointment. You can’t have the amazing perfect job, salary, company culture, purpose in life, work/life balance, and the healthy lifestyle. So, goodbye creative director paycheck, and hello purpose. That’s personally more fulfilling to me.

What lessons has the creative advertising world taught you that you now use?

Creative advertisers are great at coming up with strategic and irresistible ideas they know how to execute fast and with the right people. That’s an incredible advantage that is untapped in the entrepreneurship world, in my opinion. We are connected to the best makers that only Fortune 500 brands can afford, that we can work with for favors or at a fraction of the cost. That matters a lot when you’re starting your company.

Going back to "Secret Code", that was a project still in its relative infancy at the time you were named one of 2016's Next Creative Leaders. What was it like to make it a reality, to go from "this is a cool idea" to "wow, even Mashable is featuring this!" What's next on that front? A sequel, perhaps?


Secret Code started as a passion project. I soon after won a grant from the Girlboss Foundation, which has opened a lot of doors. I signed with WME. I didn’t know who they were — they’re the talent agents that represent Oprah, Amy Poehler and more. I’m extremely honored, though I’m aware I’m bottom of the barrel talent at this stage, (laughs).

I got a publishing deal, and our first non-custom book Rox’s Secret Code, told through the perspective of one of our characters, is coming out in bookstores this November, distributed by Penguin Random House, with its own AR coding game! We’re building that right now, to get girls to start coding from age four.

I won the startup accelerator pitch competition Project Entrepreneur, by the Rent The Runway Foundation, and just came out of the 5-week program which has prepped me to take the business to the next level.

I’m going to raise a seed round with angel investors this fall. Secret Code is growing into a customizable children’s media company that makes girls see themselves as heroes of powerful industries. Our first product has been an incredible pilot, but I’ll be raising funds to invest in marketing and PR and the next product launches. A great idea is just the tip of the iceberg, and you need so much support for people to see it. It’s too bad advertising infantilizes creatives and don’t make them understand the full picture. Which results on power ego trips from a lot of creatives. I wish ad agency departments showed each other how hard their jobs were, in order to empathize and find solutions to help each other out, versus condescend to each other.

What was the impetus behind founding "Where Are The Boss Ladies"? How has that project taken off?

I had been working in advertising for thirteen years and i never had a woman boss. I was curious to know what it felt like. Being quite the activist in my mission to empower girls to become leaders, it was ironic that I had never reported to a woman leader. As I was looking for my next advertising gig while bootstrapping Secret Code, I started telling recruiters I would only accept jobs with woman-led teams. So I started a list of women leaders I knew of on Google Sheets. I opened editing access to the list, posted it on Fishbowl inviting others to contribute, and submissions started pouring in as the link was reposted by Girlsday, Cindy Gallop, the 3 Percent Conference, and later Adweek and The Drum. I met my partner Christina Jones, who brought all the data to Airtable. We made Where Are The Boss Ladies a decently user-friendly and self-sustainable experience without investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in tech and maintenance. Since then, we have a growing audience on social media with our mission to redefine leadership with new role models. We’ve partnered with Bustle on a dinner series and mentorship program called Boss Mentors, and we’re working with Fishbowl to organize real-world events. Stay tuned!

" I had been working in advertising for thirteen years and i never had a woman boss. I was curious to know what it felt like."

There has been some significant progress made in making the advertising industry more gender-balanced — with some high profile dismissals and promotions to go along with it. As someone for whom this is a passion, what are your feelings on the progress? Where could things be better?

There have been amazing strives the past four years. But, we won’t make real progress until we learn to truly empathize with each other, from our different genders, ethnicities and generations. There is a movement towards bashing others for their mistakes which isn’t part of my philosophy. I’m not talking about those who have committed crimes—they certainly deserve consequences to their actions. For everything else, I’m much more interested in understanding which cultural upbringing has pushed people to behave a certain way. And then dismantling that behavior by making them gain consciousness of how it affects other people — with honesty and empathy. Long story short, trust gets you further than insults.

Perhaps because I’ve lived in four different countries, I’ve learned to navigate cultures by understanding relationship dynamics and adapting to them. If you want to get something from a Filipino, a Canadian, a Parisian, or a New Yorker, there are definitely different strategies at stake! We need to understand our target audience before making them take the action we want. Just like in advertising.

It’s funny because we’re excellent at understanding demographics for our clients, but internally, it’s as if those lessons never mattered.

Instead of gossiping or tweeting about the most ___ist person of the day, it’s more productive to address the issue when it happens, with honesty and empathy. Pull the person in a room and tell him, “Hey. I wanted to be honest with you...I know you didn’t mean it like that, but what you said made me feel this way. And it probably makes a lot of women feel that way too. Thought I’d let you know...as a friend.” (Even if you might rather want to punch them in the face. That’s what my kickboxing classes are for!) You’ll find that the perpetrators are often dumbfounded and apologetic, because no one has had the "breasts" to ever tell them the truth. And now they know you’re on their team. Win-win!

I believe in bringing men into the equation. Men are on average 80-95% of agency senior leadership. They’re literally stronger in numbers. They are the problem, but they are the solution too. It’s fun to stay amongst women and vent (I do enjoy a good vent sesh sometimes!), but going out there and addressing problems as they happen, one by one, with empathy and grace, will have a better impact on your life, and on the lives of the next ladies.

In summary: empathize, communicate and be honest!

" It’s funny because we’re excellent at understanding demographics for our clients, but internally, it’s as if those lessons never mattered.

Instead of gossiping or tweeting about the most ___ist person of the day, it’s more productive to address the issue when it happens, with honesty and empathy."

What keeps you grounded and humble in this crazy business — assuming, of course, you consider yourself grounded and humble!

I think early stage entrepreneurs are probably the most grounded and humble people you can find. We are faced with harsh realities of what it takes to build a business. As for investments, you often hear stories of founders who are told no 100-200 times before getting a yes. We all know nine out of ten startups fail, and it will take us ten years to see some form of financial success — which is probably less lucrative than a career in advertising. It’s all really a humbling experience!

On top of that, I would say my humility is not always great for business and investors. I omit a lot of my achievements by fear of sounding like I’m full of myself. And then people can think less of me because I only have a few minutes of their time, and I don’t necessarily act like the stereotype of the overly confident CEO. I think that’s due to my French, Filipino, and creative sides combined. French understate their achievements out of elegance. Filipinos are overly humble out of generosity. And creatives know the hustle it takes to come up with a decent idea and execution. See what I did there, I used the word “decent” instead of “AWESOME.” Things I still need to work on! (laughs)

You were born in Manila, and your creative career has taken you from Paris to Toronto to New York. What has been each city's best quality? And if you were to uproot to an all new place for the next stage of your career, where would you want to go?

  • Manila, where I grew up. Filipinos are extremely warm, humble and talented people. They’re a mix of islander, Asian, Latin and American culture (being a former Spanish and American colony). I would love to live there again.
  • Paris: I love French radio and magazines. I miss the average person being very educated. I miss a country that provides free education and healthcare to their citizens. That’s why your average Joe (or Bernard) is pretty smart—because they’ve had access to decent education regardless of their social status. And of course, the food.

  • Toronto: Canadians are the perfect mix between what I love about America and what I love about Europe. They’re kind and optimistic and their country cares about their people.  I loved Toronto too, it has a nice town-feel. I think the quality of life in Canada is unparalleled. I love that everyone goes to their lake cottages on the weekends.

  • New York: I love the diversity here. This has been the closest place to “home” for me. Funny because it’s only at age 30 that I started feeling like a place was a true home. I’ve always felt “different” in my home countries (France and the Philippines). People I meet here come from everywhere, and are driven, optimistic, open-minded… All traits I relate to.

For the next phase in my career, I would love to check out the West Coast one day. I have never not lived in a country's largest city, and I would love to check out the countryside, like LA. Lol, I know most don’t consider it the countryside but for me anywhere there’s cars and trees is the countryside.

What advice would you give to a young creative who wants to shake up the system, but maybe isn't ready to leave her agency gig?

Start a bunch of blogs/Instagram accounts or side hustles that speak to your soul. You will meet amazing people on the way, find new opportunities, have fresh pieces in your book, and that will take you to your next career move.



The first deadline for Next Creative Leaders entries is Sunday, August 19. The competition is free to enter, and is open to all women in creative industry roles with a t least three years of experience but have not yet reached executive level.




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