Next Creative Leaders 2020: Sarah Berro
Posted on Oct 29, 2020
She / Her / Hers
Hometown and country:
Current employer, city and role:
Impact BBDO, Dubai, Associate Creative Director
How did your upbringing, family or hometown shape you as a creative?
I grew up in Lebanon in a modest, hardworking family of intellectuals, into a backdrop of a civil war, occupational and political turmoil. Both my parents were Sociology professors and my dad, a die-hard communist. They both had one focus in life, to provide for us, their three children, with the best education they could. So they put us in one of the best French schools in Lebanon, which was way above their pay grade. In return they expected nothing less than excellence, to make us worth their investment. It wasn’t easy, because I wasn't a natural genius of any sort. So I had to work really hard to earn their approval and most of the times it wasn’t good enough for their standards. That definitely shaped me as a human being. It kind of messed me up actually. It made me super self-critical and over judgmental of myself and my own work. It definitely pushed me to do better, but it also made my working process a lot harder.
What’s your “breaking into advertising” story?
I always wanted to study advertising. Ads in Lebanon were celebrated on national TV, and I used to wait every year to watch the ad award ceremony, like people wait for the Oscars. Typically, in Middle Eastern families, you don’t always get to do what you want, because your dad or mom or aunt or neighbor might have a different opinion. In my case it was my dad. He thought I would be better off studying Translation and Languages, considering that I was good at writing and that he was getting into publishing too. He thought we could possibly join forces in the future, so I studied Translation and Languages and I did not particularly like my university years. Up until I graduated with a Master’s degree, I was always asking myself how things would have been different if I was left to do what I wanted. Later on, moving to Dubai, I somehow managed to find my way back to advertising, by channeling what I learned into creative writing. Now looking back, I see a lot of positives in how things played out. I think my background in languages and linguistics is what gives me my edge as a creative today.
What’s the piece of work you’re most proud of and why?
Mutilated Words for “28TooMany”. A campaign designed to raise awareness on the physical, mental and social damage of female genital mutilation in Egypt. As a woman in advertising, I feel it is my responsibility to try and make things better for women and this campaign was a step in that direction.
What does being named a Next Creative Leader mean to you?
It means I must be doing something right! To be included amongst such creative talents is unbelievable. It is a true honor.
Who has most influenced you in your career thus far?
I wouldn't say it’s one person. It’s all the exceptional talents and genius minds that I have crossed paths with throughout my career. I learned different things from different people. Working in Dubai exposed me to different cultures, backgrounds and schools of thought, and that by itself is enriching and inspiring.
What is your secret (or not-so-secret) creative super power and how do you flex it?
I have a thing for words. I like to mess with them. Reshuffle them, reorder them, remove a letter, add a dot and observe the change in meaning. That's why a lot of my work has to do with Arabic words and Arabic typography. Coming from a language and linguistics background, I am drawn to do work that aims to reform, update and modernize the language to reflect and inspire social and cultural change.
Your work has tackled some incredibly difficult issues facing women—from FGM to domestic violence. How have your personal experiences shaped your desire to create positive change for other women?
Growing up and living in the Middle East, I am right at the heart of where all sorts of discrimination against women happen– I am not alien to any of these issues and some of them are from personal experience.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the creative industry right now and how would you solve it?
I think the main challenge facing the creative industry today is the same challenge facing many industries and it has to do with funding and budget allocations. With reduced advertising budgets, the creative industry needs to be very quick and agile in updating itself to smarter, more efficient and innovative ways to help brands continue to inspire and motivate consumers, as they adapt to their new ways of life.
What’s the biggest lesson that 2020 has taught you?
To put my physical health and mental sanity before deadlines.
How do you “fill up your cup” creatively?
Reading. Movies. Shows. Podcasts. Talking to people. I was also lucky enough to be able to travel to see my parents. A change of scenery is always good and spending time in nature is the best way to reset and refresh your ideas.
How are you caring for yourself during this stressful time? Any self-care tips and tricks you can share?
Working out. Eating well. Sleeping well.
How are you working to celebrate, support or elevate other marginalized voices and experiences?
I am currently working on a campaign that empowers women at the age of menopause. It is still in the making, so I will not reveal too much. I’m excited to be a part of a project that tells the stories of women in that age. They are widely underrepresented and they deserve to be heard.
Creativity can save the world. What real world problem would you want to tackle with creativity, if time, budget and logistics were not an issue?
I would probably start by saving my own country– by helping our government find better and safer ways to store things away from the center of the capital, like Amonium Nitrate!
What or who is currently inspiring you?
Language. Its power and its evolution across time and cultures. I am inspired to do work that frees the language from limiting beliefs. Cutting social stigmas from the roots. Reframing, by renaming. Synching our vocabulary to our current realities.
How are you leaving the work, the workplace or the world a better place than you found it?
I try to use the platforms that come with the industry to make a real difference. I look at every brief as an opportunity to make a real change. As a woman creative, working mostly on campaigns that target women in Saudi, there is a lot of opportunities to help redefine the role of Saudi women beyond motherhood and the kitchen– especially now, with Saudi being more open and receptive to notions of freedom and self-exploration for women.
I also always try to make time for work that helps small organizations with limited budgets and small teams fight for crucial humanitarian causes.
If you could go back in time, what pivotal advice would you give yourself before your first day as a professional creative?
I would probably tell myself, success is important, but don’t take yourself so seriously. It will spare you a lot of stress, trouble and a herniated disc. Enjoying the process is as important as the results.