Welcome to All Hands, a podcast where C-suite leaders talk about how smart HR and people strategy is good business strategy. In this episode, our host, Katelin Holloway talks with Jen DaSilva about how to make authentic connections, the power of collaboration, and how her mindset towards remote working has changed. This podcast is brought to you by Lattice.
“One of the things about a network and client business and your employees is that it’s always a two way street, right? You need to be giving as much as you’re getting.”
Welcome to ALL HANDS by Lattice, where we believe that People Strategy IS Business Strategy. I’m your host — Katelin Holloway. For the last decade, I’ve been a People & Culture executive at some of the internet’s most beloved startups, but my fascination with building true people-first cultures started many, many years ago. From film to tech (and a few interesting layovers in between), the one common denominator remains: I am most passionate about enabling people through belonging to create beautiful, innovative products.”
On All Hands, I talk with CEOs and other c-level leaders about the importance of people strategy and creating a supportive culture — which is more important than ever.” Join us while we chat with these top leaders about how a “people first” approach isn’t just good for people — it’s good for business too.
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Today on ALL HANDS we’re chatting with the president of the creative agency Berlin Cameron, and my current people first leader crush Jen DaSilva. Jen has been a leader in the advertising industry for over 20 years, bringing some of the most beloved brands into our homes and into our hearts.
Katelin Holloway: Now, Jen and I met a few years back at the Cannes Lion festival in the South of France, and yes, you heard me correctly. I have friends, and once upon a time, we used to travel together to super bougie places and drink Rosé at fancy advertising parties. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak on a panel with Jen about Parenthood at work. We shared some tears on [00:06:00] stage and then in January of what is turning out to be the shittiest year yet, I officially asked Jen to be my mentor. So listen up people. It exists. Even when you get to be my ripe old age, it’s still okay to ask for people for support and to ask people that you admire for some wise words of wisdom every now and again.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Jen. She sits on the national board of GirlUp and the National Kidney Foundation, where last year she received the visionary leader award for her service, and she’s earned titles from around the globe for her commitments supporting women. So Jen, I cannot tell you how excited I am to feature you and your story on All Hands. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Jen DaSilva: Thank you for having me.
Katelin Holloway: You know, I got to know you personally outside of a formal business sense. It’s always fun to dig up a little bit more about people you admire. Reading about your past and your journey, it got me all excited all over again. So actually, do you want to tell us a little bit more about yourself outside of the things that I just mentioned, which is a lot?
Jen DaSilva: Yeah, I actually grew up where you’re living now in the Bay area, um, as an only child that was really foundational to kind of what’s built me today and gotten me to where I am. I grew up in Los Gatos [00:08:00] and I always knew that I was going to get as far away as I possibly could because I needed to learn how to become independent, not because I don’t love my parents, because I definitely do. So I looked only at East coast schools and came to Boston College and majored in communication there and really didn’t know that I wanted to be in advertising until I did an internship and I fell in love with the notion that I got to support and help people and build ideas in that. I loved it. I got to intern for a group called the Intuition Group, which is a marketing group to women, that’s really when I fell in love with this notion of thinking about the female consumer is very different from thinking about the male consumer. They propped me up. They actually had me present to clients as an intern, which I think, you know, it was monumental in my career because I got to be exposed to that at such a young age. They hired me [00:09:00] before I graduated college and the day before I started work, I got a call and said unfortunately the Intuition Group has been disbanded. I know it was such a bummer. So they said, “don’t worry, we still have a job for you.” It was part of JWT, which is a part of WPP. So I joined JWT and got to work on Warner-Lambert, packaged goods which is really great experience. But unfortunately, I always wanted to do the marketing to women, and I didn’t make my way back there until about I’d say about five years ago. That’s really been what has brought the passion to find founding Girl Brands Do It Better, my division that works with female founders. It’s brought a lot of thinking in terms of female leadership, how to be as much as we can think about that–being a working mom, and the bad word, ‘balance’ as much as we can, which is impossible. [00:10:00] That’s really how I started it all.
Katelin Holloway: How did you nab this role of being president of Berlin Cameron? I mean that, that’s quite the journey to start essentially as an intern for the parent company, then working your way all the way up to the president of title. Tell me about that.
Jen DaSilva: I started at Berlin 17 years ago, as an account supervisor working on Coca-Cola, I’d worked at an agency that was working on British Airways, which was amazing. Unfortunately, 9/11 happened and I still stayed there, but the work was mostly done out of the UK so it was no longer, as interesting as it was so I shifted over to Berlin, Cameron, and I really loved it. It was a great time to be a part of it, but actually also a really hard time. You know, as I look back on it now, it [00:11:00] was definitely a boys club. I didn’t take a leadership role. I was more of a supporter and I think one of the things that I always try to pass along now to junior people is the development of your own story and how essential that is to your own relationships. No one told me that at a young age, you know? I thought, well, “my job is to sell the creative, to support everyone, to make sure that everyone’s at the meeting, that all the clients are happy.” I was never really thinking about how I fit into that equation. As you become more senior, you have to lead that equation and people have to trust you. In order to trust you, they have to know a little bit about you and know your story.
I saw a bunch of different leaders go through Berlin, Cameron. Some of them I learned great things from, and some of them I learned what not to do. I think finally they were like, [00:12:00] “Oh. Well, Jen’s been here and kind of doing this role in the background her right now, so maybe we should let her try”. Really it was a hard time for the agency. We have like one core piece of business and, you know, my job was really to figure out a way to make us relevant again. It was really scary and to be honest, I was very afraid. It was also the time that I was starting to make a family. So that was complicated in and of itself.
I think, you know, one of the reasons why I took the leap to supporting female leaders and female founders was to build work for the agency. I didn’t think about it at the time. I was like, “Oh, I’m going to help female founders.” It just that all of a sudden, one female founder led to another female founder, which led to another one.
I thought to myself, you know, this is about five or six years ago, [00:13:00] ‘There’s something here. I’m building something special here
Katelin: Berlin Cameron’s website reads “we are agents of cultural change.” Putting up messaging on your website is one thing — actually following through with action is another. Not only does this matter to your employees, but consumers are increasingly aware of how brands are “showing up” for them.
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Jen DaSilva: I think that creating change in come from so many different types of [00:16:00] walks, but consumers are looking for brands to create change, actually right now more than ever.
That is not just about that thank you message or, a message of like, “we’re with you”. It’s about what are you doing for consumers right now when we’re in this very difficult time. I just saw an ad from Frito Lay that was talking about their commitment and how much they’re giving back and exactly what they’re doing. Those are the things that consumers want to see. They want to see brands creating change. And that’s what we tried to push our brands to do.
So an example of that for Berlin Cameron would be the work that we did with Secret that was all about the women’s soccer team and challenging the pay equity situation that they were going through and helping that cause, and working with Secret to create that change. So we had an ad in the New York times where it was $23,000 a player, [00:17:00] that they gave back. It was 23 players I mean, it was only one small step, but you know, a big step for the brand.
Katelin Holloway: That’s amazing. I do think to your point, impact matters. Integrity matters, whether it’s the brand that you are selling or supporting from an advertising perspective but also the brands that people are wanting to go work for, and work with. I think that we are living through a very interesting time right now with, with COVID How are you showing up as an employer? How are you showing up as a brand? I think that the definition between those two is becoming blurrier each and every day. So it’s really, really cool to hear the Berlin [00:18:00] Cameron has always thought and felt that way and has led it feels like very values first.
Jen DaSilva: Yeah, exactly. I think, you know, I think with the COVID thing, it doesn’t have to be committing to this monumental sum. It could just be, how are you creating change for your consumer to make it a safer place to go right now if it’s necessary? How are you creating a context plus delivery system? Those kinds of things and informing your customer how you’ve adapted to this incredibly hard time. If you’re giving back and donating, if you can, then great, but I think people want to hear from you and in what you’re doing to actually make people’s lives maybe easier and safer.
Katelin Holloway: Thank you for sharing a little bit more about Berlin, Cameron. I think that’s helpful context because I think so much of our product and what we’re putting into the world impacts our culture and how we’re building our own communities internally.
Now let’s go back a little bit to your personal mission. So it reads, “her mission is to foster meaningful connections through authentic and vulnerable communication.” I do think that you, you live this every single day and in every single action. I’m curious, because outside looking in, this personal mission statement around connecting people through authentic, vulnerable communication. I feel that in Berlin Cameron’s work, I feel that, and I feel the alignment. I know that you have grown up there but how do you feel Berlin Cameron’s adoption of your personal mission or your value set has changed the business?
Jen DaSilva: Definitely a lot, but this is also something that I’ve come into. I think from being an only child, I obviously strove for connections, but it wasn’t always easy for me to make them. I often felt like I didn’t belong. I felt like I was 40 and everyone else was like, you know, whatever age we were at the time. So when I turned 40, it was like this massive, “I’m finally arrived at like my age”. I could be myself and be who I’ve like always been.
I think that this search for connections has– and now passion for making connections for others– has been really important to me [00:2f2:00] and the agency and building, the network for the agency as well as for myself. That was one of the things that when I was also thinking about girl brands, that’s really when I started to focus on my network and making connections. I think one of the things about a network and client business and your employees is that it’s always a two way street, right? You need to be giving as much as you’re getting. You know, I know, in a mentorship situation, you know, that’s the same thing, right? It always has to be a two way street because it will never be fruitful unless it is right. I wouldn’t know enough about you to give you advice and help you if you weren’t giving your story to me and I wasn’t giving my story to you, because you want to know my background in order to have the right questions to ask me and so that we can build a meaningful relationship.
Katelin Holloway: I think that that is so, so true. Speaking from my own place of experience, working in the advertising industry and my husband worked in the industry for a number of years, [00:24:00] I would say that advertising agencies aren’t typically known for having people first cultures
But it sounds like Berlin Cameron has chosen to operate differently going against that trend, that advertising is not people first. I want to ask you a question about your CEO. So you sit side by side with one of the co founders, the namesake, Ewen? How do you two operate together?
Jen DaSilva: It’s funny, I mean, we’ve been in a relationship for 17 years together. [00:25:00] We’re very open with each other. We definitely duked it out at times. But one of the things that he does really well is let people do what they do well. He’s started to see that, you know, bringing the culture–because his philosophy is always about ideas of working, what’s gonna make people happy, and delivering great work is what’s gonna make people happy. I think, in our industry, there’s a lot of truth to that. I think right now we’re in such a different environment and that we really need to be thinking about our people as well. That’s really what I’ve been trying to focus on and lead him to, and it’s uncomfortable for him sometimes, to be in those meetings. Like the other day, we’ve been doing zoom calls for all agency and we’ll do what we’ve accomplished, and then we’ll talk about new business and we’ll talk about, you know, how we need to hustle for each other right now. Then at the end, we did a moment of gratitude and it, you can see it kind of makes him [00:26:00] uncomfortable really. But it’s so good for everyone and everyone ends up feeling so positive from those moments. And I think that’s really what has been central to our relationship is learning what I don’t need to ask about and just go do it cause I know sometimes he won’t be swayed, but if I just go do it and he sees the impact of it, then he’ll end up being happy in the end.
Katelin Holloway: So now give us a run down of the actual business. How many employees does Berlin Cameron currently have?
Jen DaSilva: We have 35 current employees, and it’s, we’ve actually grown over the last couple of years. [00:28:00] I think at our heyday was about 60. Now in the recent years, we’ve been building up again, which has been great. We’re a really tight knit group, and really been building a culture that I really thank Tina Yip for. She’s really done a great job in fostering a culture for the agency. I think that for a lot of years, we lacked when we were so busy that we weren’t even thinking about it at the time.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about if we’re having a message out there, like for instance, about mental health, how are we actually thinking about that with our employees as well? I was actually like shocked to see the data across the US being better than the data from our employees and how they felt workplace affected their mental health. That really, for me it was this like shocking light bulb. Like “I need to be doing something different,”. And one of the things that we’ve been doing is engaging with employees on an individual [00:29:00] level because mental health is so different for everyone, right? So we’ll do onboarding sessions with each employee to get to know them as an individual. What’s your style? How do you like to receive feedback? You know, what are your non, you know, non-negotiables? You like to come in at 10 because you aren’t doing, you know, Barry’s bootcamp? Those types of things have become a part of our culture and I’ve been doing them now through COVID and quarantine as well, trying to have individual check-ins with everyone. How are you doing? Is there anything that I can do for you? Is there anything that we’re not doing for you now that you would like to see? You know, and it’s been great to get the feedback from people and really try to adapt the culture to that.
I think, you know, everyone’s mental health is very challenged right now, and so just thinking about everyone’s individual situation is the most important thing that I can do.
Katelin: This makes me so happy to hear. Simply offering your employee’s mental health programs isn’t enough anymore. Leadership should actively be reaching out to employees to see if they need time to grieve, decompress, or just take time for themselves — no questions asked.
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Katelin Holloway: I think that [00:30:00] now is a time more than any other in our company’s history and our organization’s history, where our culture is really being put to the test. Has there been anything surprising for you in how your culture has revealed itself since quarantine started?
Jen DaSilva: Definitely. We used to have a monthly meeting with all agency, and we’ve actually been having them weekly now, so very different. So we give everyone the chance to speak, and I think it’s really brought us closer, even though we were all working so separately. I have to be honest that I don’t think I believed in the power of remote work before. [00:31:00] I didn’t think we could do it. I thought I had to be there to make sure people were getting the work done and I was totally wrong. I was totally wrong. We are very productive. We’re getting shit out the door, and I’m so proud of the team. I apologize to all of them. We had flexibility around it. You could tell your manager that you wanted to work from home for a certain day and you know they would be, they would say yes or no based on what was going on. So it wasn’t that we had no flexibility, but it wasn’t open policy. I told them all that if we give half to the office that you know, we’ll be relooking at that because we can get our stuff done. So much has changed in how I’m thinking about how we get our work done.
Katelin Holloway: This is absolutely one of the best pressure testers around, right. And I think, you know, challenging some of our assumptions anything [00:32:00] from a work, from home and the flexibility around, FaceTime and butts in seats, versus impact. Really redefining what productivity looks like, especially for our parents who are locked inside with their loving little monsters who we adore. But time becomes very different in the absence of childcare. How are you surviving as a parent? You have two young kids at home. How are you supporting the parents in the Berlin Cameron family?
Jen DaSilva: Everyone has very different situations. I’m trying to hear them out in their situations and, you know, adapt to each [00:33:00] individual again. My own, Oh my God, it’s so hard. It really is. I mean, we’re stuck in a New York city apartment all together. We have nice space and we’re fortunate enough to have backyard. My one thing is we can cook like, thank God we can cook because, I get to eat what I want to eat. I know that I’m going to make myself a good meal as something to look forward to. But it’s hard to manage it all. I find that the cleaning is like the worst part.
Katelin Holloway: It’s incessant.
Jen DaSilva: It’s incessant. Seriously the crumbs that these kids create. I like try to get them to sweep, but you know, these coworkers are very difficult.
Katelin Holloway: Truer words have never been spoken, I feel you on that very much.
We talked a little bit about what you know, things are going to look like for Berlin Cameron, for you leading that team on the back end of COVID, and this world where we don’t really know what the workplace is going to look like. You talked a little bit about thinking about revisiting some policies around remote or flexible work. Is there anything else that has come up for you as a community through this that you’re like, “Oh, this is some good stuff! I would love to keep this, to retain this on the back end.” Is there anything else that has surprised you?
Jen DaSilva: Yeah. I definitely in the remote work would be huge. I think meetings with clients will change, you know? So traveling to clients, I don’t think we’ll be doing that as much but [00:45:00] I think insisting on this type of format, because I think actually relationships were becoming colder before COVID. We were doing a lot of conference calls and we weren’t doing a lot of in-person still with the clients. But now we’ve become to like where we expect this video conference as the norm. I was just thinking about it today actually, when thinking about how awkward would it have been like three weeks ago to have like a video chat with you. But now if I don’t have a video chat, it’s kind of awkward. When somebody accidentally FaceTimed you before this and it was like, “Oh, why are they facetiming?” And now it’s like, “well, of course they’re FaceTiming me because that’s how we communicate.” I think that will bring us closer in the end because we were starting to like have rules around travel and meeting each other in person anyway, not because of COVID, but because of money and things. Now we’ll be forced to see each other again then, you know, maybe through a computer, but at [00:46:00] least it’s better than just a phone call where we were badly multitasking.
Katelin Holloway: So through this time in quarantine, have any of your values really stood out to you or demonstrated like, “Oh, right, this is who [00:47:00] we are and this is something that we can live by or manage this situation through”?
Jen DaSilva: Yeah. One of our values, cause we’re a more boutique agency within the WPP family, has always been about collaboration. More than ever, I’ve seen us collaborating with different teams within WPP and even teams that we never met before this and we’ve done it well. We figured out a way to work together to get the client with great work and the client’s happy. So I think that for us is something that I’m really excited about.
Katelin Holloway: How many people are in the global WPP under that umbrella?
Jen DaSilva: I think there’s 300,000 employees. It’s a huge company and there’s many different agencies and some that you collaborate better than with others. It’s always about finding a skill set that [00:48:00] you don’t have, but actually what we’ve been collaborating on more recently is actually combining the similar skill sets, which I find to be more difficult collaborating then when, “Oh, you’re adding media to the equation of creativity, and of course they’re doing media and you’re doing creativity,” but being able to have a good working relationship with them with people who are doing the same thing, and being able to build on each other and developing relationships through it is what I’ve seen us really do well.
Katelin Holloway: Again I only ask because I know the agency world just operates so much differently than the tech world.
So thinking forward to the new ‘new normal’ on the backside of quarantine, how has people strategy a strategic advantage for Berlin Cameron?
Jen DaSilva: People are everything that we have, right? Our people are the ones who are delivering the ideas. And if you don’t, then they need to be the first person that you’re thinking about. I don’t think that we’ve always been that way, and I hope to continually get better at that. It’s something that I’m constantly striving to work out because [00:50:00] I haven’t always been that way either. I’ve been about clients first and I’m really good at that, and I’ve shifted that over the years and when I become. the leader of the agency. I think I’m seeing more and more the importance of that every day.
Katelin: It’s been ages since I’ve worked in advertising and to be frank — my time working in an agency is the reason I kind of had a quarter-life crisis, did a 180, and changed my career for the first of many, many times.
But meeting Jen has given me confidence that the advertising world has the ability to shift. I really do think that Jen, and Berlin Cameron, are changing the way companies and agencies operate — by putting people first.
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Katelin Holloway: Are you ready for the rapid fire questions?
Jen DaSilva: I hope so.
Katelin Holloway: Okay. I’m going to hit him and then you just answer them as quickly as you can. Don’t overthink it. There are no wrong answers.
Jen DaSilva: Got it.
Katelin Holloway: For one, there’s a wrong answer. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Jen DaSilva: No.
Katelin Holloway: Zoom or phone call?
Jen DaSilva: Zoom.
Katelin Holloway: Favorite quarantine recipe?
Jen DaSilva: Well, I’m just made a new one the other day, this French toast from a friend, actually a coworker, Laurie, and it was amazingly delicious. [00:53:00] You do it the night before and then you just stick it in the oven in the morning. The kids were like that, I got hugs, I got all this extra love. So even though I only had like a teeny little piece of it, it was amazing.
Katelin Holloway: I’m not going to lie. As I saw photos of this on Instagram, I was going to hit you up for the recipe. I’m glad that you said that one.
So I said that those were the rapid fire questions, but I actually have three more that are a little rapid fire, but a little deeper. Company culture: do you prefer family or sports team?
Jen DaSilva: Family [00:55:00] . Family that watches sports though. The combined.
Katelin Holloway: I take a combined method too. What is your favorite interview question and why?
Jen DaSilva: I always like to just have them tell me their story. I think that that’s such an essential thing to try to get to know them from a very early stage. So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Katelin Holloway: My favorite question to ask when I’m interviewing a potential employer. And that is, when was the last time you wanted something so badly it hurt?
Jen DaSilva: I think now, like getting outside. [00:56:00] Your body actually does hurt. I don’t think we’re like thinking of it that way because we need to deal with it. But now, yeah.
Katelin Holloway: Well, Jen, I cannot tell you what an absolute privilege and honor this has been. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with our audience. Thank you so much for leading your team and the way that you are. I will thank you on behalf of them. Please just keep leading with your head and with your heart. And we are so excited to see how Berlin Cameron continues to grow and thrive under your leadership.
Katelin Holloway VO:
And to you, the listener! Thanks so much for joining me on this week’s episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I’m your host, Katelin Holloway.
This episode was produced by Pod People: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert [AH-liza], and Samantha Gattsek [GATT-sic]. Special thanks to Annette Cardwell. Learn more about how Lattice can help your business stay people focused at Lattice DOT com or find us on Twitter @LatticeHQ. Don’t forget to subscribe to All Hands, wherever you get your podcasts.
Join us next time!