Next Creative Leaders 2019: Sara Phillips

Posted on Nov 07, 2019

Preferred pronouns:

She / Her / Hers


Hometown and country:

Theescombe, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom


Current employer, city and role:

Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Senior Art Director


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

My parents gave me my work ethic and filled me with a sense that anything is possible.


What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?

I fell into advertising after experiencing the world as a pro snowboarder.

I lived in Austria, Norway and Iceland, chased the snow, hit a lot of rails, jumped off a lot of shit and landed on the pages of Transworld more than a few times.

Wanting a new challenge, I applied to the W+K 12 program which was an experiment masquerading as a school. My application was a boring graphics portfolio and didn’t make the cut.

I took my rather formal letter, wrote my life story on the back of it and sent it back to program director—Jim Riswold crumpled into a ball as if had been thrown in the trash, which in fairness it had. I got a call the next day, interviewed with Jim and was invited to be part of the program.

I spent a year committing typographic arson, killing off astronauts, stunt modeling in a bathing suit on the wing of an F-14 and didn’t sleep. So, my route into advertising was by no means the norm. If I’ve learnt anything it’s that tenacity and perseverance will get you everywhere.


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

I’m proud of all the work I’ve created over the years, they all have me in them. Most recently, I said something that needed to be said with the Nike Dream Crazy campaign, that no other brand dared to do, and I’m proud to have created advertising that stood on the right side of history.


What does meaning this award mean to you?

It’s an honor to be recognized by a jury that knows firsthand the challenges I faced.


Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?

I credit my partners and creative directors for challenging my opinions, opening me up to different ways of thinking and sharing the lens that they see the world through. Each have taught me something special.


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

Equal parts curiosity and grit.


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

Transparent salaries to achieve pay equality.


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

Identifying future talent—a study found that men are more likely to be judged based on their potential; whereas women are judged based on their past performance.

The bias to past performance creates a cycle systemic in advertising—less women promoted into leadership roles, fewer female peers, harder to hire female creatives because they don’t have the work in their books, female directors might not have a big spot on their reel because they haven’t been given that opportunity.

Being aware of the bias and working to recognize the potential in all talent.


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?

Understanding that communication and working style is viewed differently depending on gender.


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

Don’t let work define you.


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

Starting over. WK+12 definitely changed my life and set me up for where I am today.


How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?

I stay curious. I ask a lot, a lot of questions… I try to keep my eyes open and never say no to an adventure. I love getting lost in new cities and conversely, I’m happy disappearing in nature and pooping in the woods.


What’s currently inspiring you?

In no particular order, Sandy Liang’s fleeces, Sarah Sitkin’s skin molds, boxer Amy Andrews that trains at Haringey in London and Nadia Lee Cohen’s work.


What would be your dream project and why?

Collaborating with Christopher Simmonds on a Gucci project.


Who would be your dream collaborators and why?

I’d love to be in a brain soup with Spike Jonze, on anything.


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

Stylist Lotta Volkova.


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

I want to lead by example and show that great work can be done by women that come out of left field, working in a male dominated industry, on a male dominated account and on subjects that divide the country and stand up for what’s right.


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

To be uniquely you.

Click here to view her award winning work 

Next Creative Leaders 2019

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