Up Close And Professional
With so few female agency founders, Kelly Molson (award winning founder of Rubber Cheese) is on a mission to find out why and how to remedy this. In her interview with Lara Chapple, Lara outlines that one of the biggest hurdles for women in business can be... women.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your background/career path?
Account management whipped me into shape but the art geek never died, so I became a Business Developer at a small creative collective called Pocko, managing artists in the commercial field. After winning a significant client I spotted an opportunity to re-structure the agency business model entirely.
I set up Wolfpie about a year ago and have since purchased a new sketchbook.
Tell me about your agency. What is it you do and what prompted you to start up your own?
I call my agency a ‘group’ because it is not structured like an agency, it’s flexible. I don’t like the client vs. agency thing, sharing an agenda is key!
Wolfpie teams are assembled around the client’s business challenge and they’re made up of freelancers and bespoke agencies used at appropriate touch points. It’s more cost and time efficient no white-labelling. The process is fair and transparent.
I’m a re-purposed middle-man. My role is to consult and unearth the client’s business challenge, work with them on a brief, assemble the right team and manage the entire process from start to finish as the consistent point of contact for everyone.
I started up afresh because in my experience, input rarely equaled output. Having worked in some excellent agencies, I struggled with why there were so many people in meeting rooms, why everyone was ‘sooooooo manic-busy’, why every task took forever. Too many cooks. Smart, dynamic people regularly cracked and our clients were rarely happy.
With that in mind I’d say the key moments that prompted me to start on my own were:
- A team of 15+ spending weeks agonising over a ‘headline’ for a print ad. It wound up looking like the Magna Carta and made no sense.
- Accepted behaviors such as unwarranted belittlement, aggression and sexual harassment.
- The reluctance for agencies to accept that TV, radio, print and banners aren’t the answer to most briefs.
What do you think the are most important issues for developing your company culture?
I’m focused on building an open, efficient and exciting culture.
Initially I thought working with freelance teams would be a cultural challenge, simply because not everyone is consistently in the studio. Then I thought, why should they be?
Everyone I work with is a talented, determined and capable adult. No need for me to play teacher. I also want to spend some of my time working from my clients’ offices, makes the world of difference!
I’ve learnt that people are happier and more productive if you trust them to deliver work on time and only have a face-to-face when absolutely necessary. That goes for clients too.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a women in business?
To be totally honest, I have been unlucky and therefore can’t speak for every woman. Yet it’s a challenge I know many women are afraid to talk about, I was.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a (younger) woman in business were other women in business. My experiences with female bosses were generally negative, manipulative and sly rather than positive, generous and supportive.
Yes, I have had problems with men but I have always been better at sticking up for myself in that respect. Problems with women I found harder.
Human ruthlessness is no secret and in a competitive context, jealousies can flare. It’s a complicated issue but I believe this ‘Mean Girl’ behaviour comes down to women not feeling as comfortable in the workplace as men yet, so we can see each other as a threat. It’s not that we are inherently nasty or insecure, it’s just that men have had longer to occupy and navigate the working environment.
Thankfully, I now sense an exciting shift! Since owning my own business I’ve met the most inspiring and generous female professionals and entrepreneurs. I now have a growing sisterhood that I owe so much to! We respect each other regardless of age and job title, so it’s a relief to know that younger women starting work should have a more positive experience.
Equality concerns all of us after all.
The Wow Company’s recent survey of 471 agency owners across the UK has the figures as Female 27% – Male 73%. Can you share your thoughts on this?
I don’t doubt it, but I know this ratio will balance out soon. Men and women have a responsibility to create a harmonious working environment for the best talent to thrive. In turn, this should level out the playing field.
Do you have a mentor, or are you a member of an agency owner community?
No mentor yet, though I am part of the Women Who community and am thinking about joining The Agency Collective. I respect that TAC are aware of the gender imbalance within their community and are doing a lot to encourage more women to join. When you consider the female agency owner stats, you can understand why this is the case.
Do you feel as a female agency founder, they offer the level of support you need? Do you need additional support that isn’t currently available?
To be frank, I haven’t been in the game long enough to reap the support rewards, though my experiences to date have been great! I only know a few other female agency owners and it’s a real privilege how supportive this is. The more we can all connect, the better!
What other female founders inspire you?
Otegha is the founder of Women Who. She’s ex-agency and not only a founder but a brilliant published writer. What she’s doing for the female professional community is incredible! Women Who will be a driving force for empowering women to have confidence in their abilities and be good to each other.
What do you think makes a great agency?
What would be your one piece of advice to future female leaders?
Gut leads, brain thinks. Always in that order or you’ll never progress.