Next Creative Leaders 2018: Nedal Ahmed
Posted on Nov 06, 2018
Hometown and country:
Current employer, city and role:
Droga5, New York, Senior Copywriter
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
It took a lot for me to get here, literally speaking. I moved to the US at age 11 with my family through refugee resettlement. I was that uncool foreign kid who didn’t really know English. It’s the ultimate immigrant cliche, but not working hard was not an option. Also, my name is the Arabic word for ‘struggle’, so there’s that. I still mix up my idioms on occasion. But other than that, my background has given me what I hope is a valuable creative perspective.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I began college wanting to be a sport reporter and quickly realized I didn’t really want to do that. Then I wanted to be just a regular reporter… and slowly realized I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do that. Then a man who owned an ad agency came to speak at one of my classes in college, and I thought maybe I wanted to do that.
I graduated from school and took a job at an agency in Dallas and did all I could to get noticed while writing copy for brochures and retail displays. Eventually, the ECD there pulled me into his office and asked me, “What are you doing here?” He told me he would help me get to New York. Once I was in New York, I kept repeating the formula of ‘work hard, get noticed’ and here I am.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
“The Talk” for Proctor & Gamble. It’s always great to get industry press and awards for your work, but when something breaks out of that and into culture, that’s special. Seeing it covered on evening news shows and by The Washington Post as part of a larger conversation on race was really gratifying for me personally.
What does winning this award mean to you?
That maybe I’m not terrible at my job. Every creative knows the struggle of imposter syndrome, so it’s nice to be able to go back and think, hey, a jury of really talented folks says you don’t suck.
Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?
The women who weren’t there for me to work with and learn from. I’ve encountered a number of great male creative mentors in my career so far, but I don’t feel I’ve worked with enough women creative directors. I only got to work with a black woman creative director for a couple of months. I really valued the time I spent with those women, and I am already coming across more and more of them. But the fact remains there just needs to be more of them to go around.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing women right now (work or non-work related) and how would you solve it?
I would say that it’s the attitude that by fighting for equality or higher representation, women are trying to “take something away” from someone. I think we need to stop and think “who” that someone is that’s under threat and why women are treated as outsiders.
If you were CCO of your company, what would be the one thing you’d change (if you could just wave your magic wand?)
I’d want to break down the invisible walls between men and women creatives. I think it’s definitely getting better with time, but I’d love for there to be more genuine camaraderie between creatives across gender lines. I still feel that the creative department is divided into ‘boys’ and ‘girls.’ You see it in how teams are paired, what accounts people get put on and even just socially around the office.
The theme of this year’s 3% Conference is “Bring it.” What do you think you bring to the table as a creative and a leader?
All I can really bring is my outlook and perspective on life. My worldview informs my work. I think it’s important to challenge how people are used to seeing things and how they unconsciously want to see things.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past year?
Don’t be complacent. For me at least, it’s easy to get in a groove when things seem to be going well. I’m trying to make a concerted effort to reevaluate the big picture of where I am and where I’m heading on regular-ish basis. Not just about work, but life in general.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career so far and how did it pan out?
Not going to portfolio school. I‘d already paid my way through college, and I didn’t want to add to my student loans if I could avoid it. So I decided to give it a shot without going and hope I could work hard enough and get noticed creatively. It looks like it worked out since my student loan debt is only in the low tens of thousands.
How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?
Music videos. The library. Reality TV. Going places. Talking to people. Not talking to people.
What’s currently inspiring you?
My fellow creatives. They all have different and cool ways of thinking and showing work. I try to always keep my eyes and ears open when we’re working alongside another team or with new creative directors.
What would be your dream project and why?
A total dream, but it would be really cool to work on a documentary film at some point. I don’t know when or about what or what role I’d have, but I think it’s a beautiful genre and there’s such a richness in reality.
How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?
By trying to be someone people can count on. And not an asshole.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to women embarking on a creative career?
Climb out of whatever box they’re trying to put you in.