Next Creative Leaders: Jessica Toye

Posted on Oct 27, 2017

Jessica Toye
Senior Art Director - JWT New York

Three words you’d use to describe yourself?
Determined. Passionate. Purposeful.

What work are you most proud of and why?
That's a tough one. I'm so proud of what we did with Black Lives Matter because of the passionate client and team, but our work for the News Literacy Project was also special to me. Not only are they a small organization, but the campaign cost nothing and sparked a bigger conversation about using great craft in design.

What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
Honestly, I was lucky. I wasn’t even sure how to set up a portfolio interview so I cold-called and even walked right into agencies. HR at one of the agencies introduced me to two of the people who basically shaped and mentored me into the person I am today. That laid the groundwork and foundation for any success that I will have in the future.

You had a lot of different jobs before becoming an Art Director. In what ways do you think that’s helped you as a creative?
Juniors coming into the ad industry can be very sheltered. So being well versed in an employment environment, let alone an advertising/media one, prepared me for the structure I’d later have to deal with on a day to day basis. Working many different jobs also opened my mind to a large range of people and experiences.

You began your career in Canada, but now work in the US. How was your Toronto experience different from your New York one?
Canada has much smaller budgets, which means working scrappier. Don’t even think about writing a script or idea with a celebrity. But the upside is timelines are much shorter, not as much testing, and it instills a very determined attitude in creatives and in an agency. If you want to get something done, you got your hands a little dirty and did whatever it took.

But don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy beginning a script with “Open on Kevin Hart sitting on a tropical beach…”

This is a competitive industry, but your experience seems much more supportive. How has that shaped your own approach to working generously with others?
One of my first CDs said to me that the best reference anyone could give for you was that you had a profound effect on their career. Beyond all the awards and the success, helping people get better is what people will remember you by – and they’ll tell the world. If I can have that effect on as many people as possible, than I’ll know I’ve paid back all the guidance I’ve received.

Your Black Lives Matter work was work you went out and made happen. Tell us about that experience.
It’s important to pursue passion projects and use your skills towards a movement you believe in to making positive change in the world. BLM was a movement that couldn’t be ignored. It made me angry that racism, and ignorance is still rampant today. We came up with ideas for BLM, then were lucky enough to get a contact and bring them on as a client. Just like every project we ran into a few large hurdles, but I believe our passion for the movement and the project kept us pushing.

JWT supported you in producing BLM work. What do you feel is the role agencies should play in social justice?
It’s very brave for a global agency to take a stance, but I also think in 2017 it’s important for leaders to instill a belief system in their agency, stand by it and have it trickle down to everyone else. When employees believe strongly in something, you want your company to support you.

Your team for BLM was pretty diverse. What did that bring to the work?
We didn’t set out to create a diverse team — it was just who came together: friends with a shared passion, who happened to be an Asian woman, a black man, a Hispanic man and a white man. Of course we’ll never fully understand what it’s like to walk in one another’s shoes, but we all know what it’s like to be treated differently for how we look. Also, leaning into creative with different perspectives and opinions makes the work stronger. Regardless of the project, it’s important to have a team that can challenge each other and push the work.

Any advice for creatives who want to make work that matters?
Keep pushing. If you are passionate about something, make time for it. If you run into a few hurdles, push past them. Because to get somewhere, you have to try. Even if it means try, try, trying again.

Who’s your biggest #Shero right now?
Susan Fowler, the Uber engineer who spoke up about the culture of sexism and sexual harassment in her workplace, which eventually led to the departure of the Uber CEO (who everyone thought was untouchable). She had a lot to lose standing up for what she believed in.

I really think it’s essential to have role models you relate to who have accomplished big things by pushing the dial and inspiring others to do the same.

Click here to view her award winning work 


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Jessica Toye

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