Migdalovici (Me.Alchemy): Ladies First tackled, on many levels, the clichés found in the international media about Romanian women

Newsroom 05/10/2016 | 13:26

This year, Cannes Lions Romania and Me.Alchemy launched #LadiesFirst, a lobby platform created to support, promote and encourage Romanian talent at international scale, in the context of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and beyond. The project consisted in a book focusing on the creative ladies portraits and stories, being conceived and created by Teodora Migdalovici, the Cannes Lions’ Ambassador in Romania, owner of Me.Alchemy and renowned international public speaker. 

Romanita Oprea

How did the name “Ladies First” come up?

Do I believe that Ladies should go first no matter what? Of course I don’t. That would be very silly and limitative. The competencies should determine the leader. The title had its magnetic appeal, yet it was more of a metaphor than a claim. Let me explain.

In my university years, I dated a student in Political Sciences. He was raised in Paris, but somehow ended up in Bucharest. Each time he made faux-pas, he was the first to say “Les femmes et les enfants d’abord”, (e.n. the women and the children first) as to let me know he was aware of the courteous rules and ready to make it up to me. He was funny in his intentions of correcting innocent mistakes; one just couldn’t be upset with him.

This story, about acting on autopilot but then reset, by being aware there are better ways to behave in certain contexts, inspired me for the name.

I found a natural similarity between that type of reaction and the way the men in our industry behave on the gender gap topic. When on autopilot, they sit a female dog in front of the computer, photograph it and post it on Facebook to express how  ”in our agency, we take diversity very seriously”.

But then, the same guys would happily endorse, recommend and encourage a creative woman for her professional qualities. When asked to nominate one such lady to receive international recognition, they eagerly replied with more than one proposal.

This social experiment – turned magazine – proved to be a success: 99 percent of the highly ranked creative professionals endorsed the initiative behind Ladies First and recommended at least one talented, overachieving lady to qualify for an international jury or for “See it, Be it”, the Cannes Lions competences accelerator dedicated to women.

What were the first steps you took in creating the project?

The very first one was exploring the men’s availability to be part of it. I didn’t want to pick names myself in order to create this contemporary chart of Romanian creativity. For so many reasons, I preferred that some of the best men of the industry to put the headlights on female performance, talent and capabilities.

That was the conceptual part. The executional first steps involved a few months of typographic, layout and design trials and errors, until the right shapes, proportions and typefaces fell into place.

Why Love and Lobby and ME.ALCHEMY?

Mealchemy.com is the personal branding platform I launched over 16 years ago. I know its effects, benefits and results – it is conceived to enjoy a magnetic response from people. All the ladies’ shootings followed the inner exigencies of the platform. This is one of the reasons the magazine looks so well composed, despite the diversity of topics and personalities it contains. Love & Lobby is the platform on which I decided to integrate all of my projects as a creativity ambassador, passionate educator and supporter of all good things Romanian. It’s my private Foreign Affairs Ministry for good causes, if you will.

What were the selection criteria for the people presented in the book?

I started with award winning men that had a history of notable performances, very often at international scale, in creative fields. Most of them are jury material themselves. I asked whether they would publicly recommend a creative woman, based on her results, for a position in an international jury or for “See it, Be it”. Every single man used the competency scale to choose the recommended woman. Are these women beautiful? Of course. Do they have a charming personality? Definitely. But their portfolios and accolades are the ones that served as selection criteria, in the end.

Which were the main challenges while creating the magazine?

Time, for sure. We were a small team, dealing simultaneously with other challenging, every day projects and deadlines. Mind the fact that we had a ME.ALCHEMY photo sessions for almost every woman presented in the magazine. Literally thousands of pictures were shot, in order to select the very best 15 of them. As I was both the client and the creative director, this came as a gift, but also as a curse. At some point, my exigency and eagerness for the best version of the project became its burden and almost jeopardized its existence. In the end, everything fit impeccably. We ended up with the first 200 freshly printed pieces in the very night we boarded our flight to Cannes.

How long did it take, from the idea to the end of the execution process?

The process took almost half a year, with a very intense 4 months in the middle, when the shootings took place. But I have to admit, the project itself is the answer to many questions I have tried to answer myself over the 18 years as a festival hunter travelling the world. Ladies First tackled, on many levels, issues related to Romania’s reputation abroad, the clichés found in the international media about Romanian women, the employment and the talent resources Eastern Europe can offer, as well as being a potential travel guide for smart foreign creatives willing to discover the design-oriented contemporary Romania. All of these, plus the gender gap issue, addressed in a “need for diversity” key.

How many people were involved?

Ladies First was a beautiful collection of performance stories coming from 13 men, 13 women and 13 contemporary designers (regardless the gender).

What was your purpose for creating it and why at that time?

 The magazine was the reflection of a movement – the one of fighting clichés related to gender and nationality, by offering the international scene a glimpse in an up to date, curated, magnetic chart of contemporary Romanian talent. The gender gap topic was covered implicitly, as well.  We did it in 2016, because the topic of female creativity became a headline in Cannes Lions priorities. Therefore, it was the right time for us to speak up.

How open were people to your idea?

As is the case with every carefully designed lobby endeavor, if the right perspective is presented, even the silent opponents can evolve into active supporters. The very existence of the magazine is an answer to that question.

I never believed in the aggressive feminist movement and I didn’t intend to replace men in power with a female correspondent. I only spoke of the beauty of diversity. Diversity is the very essence of the fresh perspectives that our industry is longing for. We can’t have that if we don’t equally accommodate men, women and any other of the 71 gender kinds Facebook suggests, to have a creative opinion.

What other activities do you see related to the book and the whole project for this year and for 2017?

Probably an itinerary exhibition with the ME.ALCHEMY portraits of the ladies presented in the magazine, maybe a new edition of the magazine, this time endorsed by a brand or by Government funding, maybe even other editions inspired by other markets or regions.

How are the Romanian female creatives perceived internationally? Is there still a road to work on?

We are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship and definitely there is room to grow.

Can you say more about the “See It, Be It” program?

See It Be It is a tailored, Cannes Lions initiative, aiming to accelerate the career progression of high-potential senior creative women and change the ratio of female leaders in agency creative departments.

Diversity was pivotal to the 2016 Festival program, with more focused sessions and speakers on the stages than ever before, including Gender Equality is No Laughing Matter, hosted by the Girls’ Lounge; Unleashing the Power of Diversity in Tech, Hosted by Girls who Code and keynotes by Madonna Badger, CCO of Badger and Winters and Kim Getty, President, Los Angeles – Deutsch.

Launched in 2014, See it Be It is a response to industry gender imbalance. Fewer women than men are joining creative ranks and even less will climb the ladder. Worldwide, it’s estimated that only 25 percent of agency creatives are female and just 3 percent reach Creative Director level.

The program aims to address this issue by developing high-potential creative women and bringing them to the attention of the industry. Raising profiles, expands contacts, building confidence and accelerating participants down the leadership path.

Three cohorts have now been through the program, coming to Cannes Lions as special guests of the Festival. They take part in a curated series of main stage seminars, with behind-the-scenes jury room access, specially-designed workshops with awarded senior creatives, one-to-one mentoring from a raft of the most respected, inspiring industry leaders and exclusive networking opportunities.

Miruna Macri, Art Director at MRM/McCann was the first Romanian to take part in this program, this year.

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