Next Creative Leaders 2019: Marie-Claire Maalouf

Posted on Nov 07, 2019

Preferred pronouns:

She / Her / Hers


Hometown and country:

Jbeil, Lebanon


Current employer, city and role:

Impact BBDO, Dubai, Creative Director


How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?

My childhood years were spent surrounded by colors, paint, materials, etc. Our house was a popular chill-out place for artists, actors, musicians and students who wanted to discuss art and exchange ideas with my father, Jamal Maalouf, an artist, scenographer and a Fine-Arts Professor in Lebanon.

Weekends involved a drive to small villages untouched by the Lebanese war to see the beautiful, authentic houses and paint them on a canvas. He would always place a small easel next to his and we would paint together. Now that I think about it, painting and capturing these beautiful neighborhoods on canvas was our way of fighting the war that Lebanon was fighting.


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

I was like any other kid my age. I loved watching TV, listening to music and day dreaming…and I wanted a job that let me do just that.

In high school, I excelled in science, and all my teachers encouraged me to pursue medical studies. I applied for biomedical engineering and was accepted. It was during this time I visited the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts to check out their majors. Reading through the list of courses in Creative Publicity, I realized these were topics that were part of my everyday life. So, without giving it a second thought, I registered there as well. After my first day in both majors, I had the same nightmare, two nights in a row: I was alone at night, stuck in a dark laboratory and outside the door, there were people on a red carpet yelling at me to go get a trophy at an awards ceremony of some sort. That was the most persuasive dream I have ever had. It trapped me in the advertising world.


What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?

I believe in creating work that either starts a conversation or makes people question things. “Mutilated Words” is a campaign designed to raise awareness about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation, and uses typography stitched with surgical thread to demonstrate what happens to the victims of FGM. For some time now, I’ve been observing the power of words in life. The FGM campaign is close to my heart because it shows how a single alphabet can alter a culturally imposed procedure and question an entire belief system. It was inspired by the prayer of St. Francis Of Assisi and it came to me in the middle of the night. The next day, I spoke about it to my copy partner, and since that day there was no looking back. We developed a print and poster campaign to raise awareness that has not only started conversations at various academic and government levels but also won honors at the major award shows.


What does meaning this award mean to you?

I’ve realized that awards are an acknowledgement that I’m on the right path of growth. I didn’t really care about award shows a few years ago, but now I feel that having awards make your clients feel safe and secure when you present ideas that they can’t judge for themselves. Or when a new company wants to hire you. Also, award shows help raise the creative bar and in turn encourage clients to push the boundaries and get courageous when they see how their competition is performing. Not to mention that when you win awards, you also get invited to judge awards, and this part, with all the exposure it brings, is the most enriching of all.


Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?

Each of the 9 creative leaders I’ve worked with throughout my career have influenced me in ways that I’m infinitely grateful for. But what really influenced my career and my growth is what I’ve done outside of it. Energy studies though the Pranic Healing System and studies in Professional Kinesiology Practice, which is a mix between coaching, energy psychology and chiropractic protocols to help reduce stress in the body. I’m grateful to have been exposed to the incredible teachings of Master Choa Kok Sui and studying closely with the amazing Michelle Garnier Chedotal.


What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative super power and how to you flex it?

Positivity. I practice awareness, and I observe a lot what’s happening around me. I meditate, apply some stress release techniques so that my brain stays in the frame that I want to put myself in: a state of “unbound faith” that I’m only a fraction of a second away from cracking a great idea. This belief ensures that I keep myself calm, balanced and open at all times. Even during group sessions and brainstorming, the right choice of words can make all the difference. I ensure that “roadblock” creating words are replaced with positive words that keep the conversation going. Sometimes it’s as simple as replacing the “no but” with the “yes and” to stay receptive for the seeding of good ideas. The mind can work in incredible ways if only we find the right way to tap into its intelligence and work with it. Magic happens when we place our trust in this simple process.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing women right now (work or non work related) and how would you solve it?

In our region, there’s still immense social pressure on women, be it working or not. From marriage to having a kid and then a second kid, and managing the house, the long list of expectations is only getting longer. Career-oriented women are judged day in and out for their decisions and they’re always under the social scrutiny of their peers, friends and family.

I strongly believe that the key to handling this pressure is a bit of courage and loads of confidence. Someone once said that confidence doesn’t come from thinking that: “they will like me, if I do this.” In fact it’s completely the opposite. Confidence means, “I will be fine if they don’t.” My personal life is a real case study. It took me years to work on “detoxifying” myself from my learned beliefs and become aware of the saboteurs in my life. Regular practice in intentionally nipping worry about how society wants me to behave in the bud and instead focusing on what’s right for me and for my family, has not only opened up wider gates for me in the future, but also strengthened my belief in the power I possess over my life.


If you were CCO of your company, what would be the one thing you’d change (if you could just wave your magic wand?)

Increase the maternity leave for women from 45 calendar days to at least six months and start maternity leave of a minimum of 90 calendar days for men. In addition, designate a nursery and a lactation room in the office. These days we practically spend a major part of our lives in office and women still have to go through the discomfort of using public toilets to pump milk for their babies.


The theme of this year’s 3% Conference is “29%” in an effort to help men experience what their female colleagues experience every day as the minority. What’s one thing you wish your male colleagues could see through your eyes?

Just like in the film Being John Malkovich, I would love for men to sit and observe all the roles a woman plays throughout one day under the scrutiny of judgment. I don’t want men to feel pity for women, on the contrary, I want them to feel her strength, resilience and infinite power. And of course, I would love to gift men the ability to deliver a baby (natural birth please), where they can truly experience the incredible feeling of becoming “one” with the creator.


What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

A single word holds immense power. It can alter your brain chemistry or the molecular structure of living things. The faster we realize and accept this, the easier it will be to harness every word’s true power. This is very important for every individual, especially women in the working force. Paying attention to your words and gaining awareness on how your internal and external language is shaping your reality is key for growing and moving forward.

I’m doing my two bits to spread the word by conducting The Power of Positive Language Workshops at creative festivals. Using the principles of Professional Kinesiology Practice and muscle testing I demonstrate the effects of toxic words versus life-enhancing words. For example: if you believe you’re not good enough, well, guess what, you will only manifest “good enough”. What you say to yourself will eventually materialize. The mind listens and the body executes.


What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far and how did it pan out?

I took the risk to unfollow. In the Dubai advertising industry, moving offices every few years is the norm, but I chose to stay and continue working with Impact BBDO through its highs and lows. Some mistook it for being fearful of leaving my comfort zone, whereas, for me, it took resilience to not quit. The risk paid off over the years at Impact BBDO, where I worked with around 9 different ECDs from different backgrounds and cultures and learned a lot from them. I advanced in my career and felt the company’s backing at every step, especially when I took my maternity leave and came back to work. I feel like I’m an important cog in the wheel of creativity at BBDO and its history.


How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?

Besides meditation, I try to spend as much time as I can with my daughter from whom I learn how to see the world differently. I have come to believe that kids see life in its most raw form, and they are the greatest teachers when it comes to creativity.

These moments reformat my thoughts and perspectives. I’ve realized that it takes sincere effort to let go of everything I’ve mastered, but I know every little step in that direction counts. So, I follow her lead and watch and listen.


What’s currently inspiring you?

All the work for raising awareness about global warming and reducing wastage. That inspired me to create a shock campaign for the Waste Management Coalition to stop the incinerators projects in Lebanon. More needs to be done in that area and my radars are activated for fresh ideas.


What would be your dream project and why?

I don’t like the word dream because, I believe, it has a chance of non-materializing. I’ve made it my goal, mission or life-purpose to call it, “The Creative Breakthrough” (or Creative Awakening). So, my Creative Breakthrough is travelling around the planet, inspiring people to step-up, have the courage to break from their own limitations, take responsibility and achieve their own incredible.


Who would be your dream collaborators and why?

Toni Robbins. He calls himself a life and business strategist and I totally agree. He has transformational power that reached the life of more than 50 million people. I attended one of his workshops on “Achieve The Unimaginable” and I totally saw myself collaborating with him.


Who’s your (current) woman crush every day?

My WCW is my pranic healing and kinesiology teacher, Michelle Chedotal. She’s committed to a life of learning and continuous personal growth. She coaches people, companies and governments to reach their goals. She works on the Ministry of happiness projects with the leaders of Dubai in the Prime Minister’s office. The principles that guide her involve self-belief and sheer determination with positive mental attitude.


How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?

I follow a very simple formula. (Event) E + (Reaction) R = (Outcome) O

You can’t affect the event. You can’t change the weather; the traffic and the way other people behave. The only thing you can affect is your reaction to the event. Only then the outcome will change. Let’s take the example of a typical day at work: The Account Executive walks in alarmed with an email from client. I sit back, ask her to take a moment to reframe it positively, taking all emotions out of it, bringing it down to action points or feedback. She tries and slowly realizes that the problem was not as grave as she had imagined it to be. We discuss creative solutions and next steps and we both leave the conversation calmly.

What did I do here? I involved her in my process of choosing to creatively respond instead of just react. She has felt the power of this process. Now it’s up to her to sincerely practice the process. More often than not, I see these same people change. They become calmer in moments of stress and worry and in doing so they influence others at work to follow this process.


What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to women embarking on a creative career?

Watch your internal and external language and carefully observe if it’s limiting your growth. Our background, education and society fed women words that have conditioned their thinking with sabotage programs that not only limit their ideas and beliefs, but also make them feel like they’ve committed a crime if they shine in anything they do. That’s the “Impostor Syndrome” women talk about.

So, my advice would be: Be aware of your thoughts and emotions and start working on yourself first before changing others. Because only then can you really walk the path of growth with ease, confidence and grace.

Click here to view her award winning work 

Next Creative Leaders 2019

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