Curiosity Matters

An Exploration of Branding, Design and Cultural Trends

Interview With Farrah Bostic: Advertising Women 2.0


Farrah Bostic is a Group Planning Director at Digitas whose insightful blog Pretty Little Head covers everything from brands to innovation and creativity. In addition to digital innovation, she's passionate about elevating women's status in the advertising and technology industries. The tech world is full of exciting new and innovative mobile and web products. How relevant is the tech world to planning?

The tech world is hugely influential to the best & brightest in planning in New York. For one thing, start-ups took over our bars (Sweet & Vicious and Tom & Jerry's)!  For another, the industry is transforming in favor of digital, social and mobile experiences, and the thought leaders in our field (planners) need nerds to play with who really deeply understand these technologies and concepts.  Those who actively experiment with them and build businesses out of them are our best partners for this kind of thinking.  The tech world is shaping how people behave and interact, and offers a myriad of ways for us to develop better knowledge about these behaviors and interactions, so we can then develop better understanding of how it affects our clients' brands and businesses.

So many of the major companies that dominate our world like Apple, Foursquare, Twitter, etc. were created by a team of men. What are some examples of great products or websites created by a team of women?

There are so many unsung female heroes in digital!  The one most often thought of is, of course, Catarina Fake, who co-founded both Flickr and Hunch.  Emily Hickey, co-founder of Hashable, helped drive the pivot from a finance site to a networking app that was one of the many favorites at SXSW this year. Dina Kaplan cofounded, which is an awesome, newly-relaunched online channel for original video content created for the web.  I'm watching about three new series there these days, now that all the network shows are in the off season.  Birchbox is a terrific business started by women with a female technical co-founder.  A lot of people talk about fashion sites like Fashism and advice sites like HonestlyNow, or food sites like Foodspotting; but I think there are some great female-founded businesses like Slideshare and Layar that are lauded as businesses that transcend the more 'obvious' female businesses.

And there's hope for people in the ad biz!  Cindy Gallop (ex-BBH) has created two businesses online:, a site that helps transform intention into action through small steps, and creates a social profile based on what you do rather than what you say; and, a site that is helping change the conversation between men and women about sex, and is promoting female friendly pornography.  Ale Lariu's work with is a fantastic example of a now ex-ad-woman building a business online that leverages her expertise in advertising and her advocacy for women in the business.

Above all of this, there are the advocates and change agents: two of my favorite ladies, Rachel Sklar and Emily Gannett at ChangeTheRatio - promoting women in startups; and the amazing Shaherose Charania and Angie Chang at Women 2.0 & Founder Labs who are actively incubating women founders.

I'm already inspired! You've recently started listing women in the advertising and tech world who have broken through the glass ceiling and are an inspiration to us all. Aside from their success, what other characteristics do these women have in common?

They're all doing ground-breaking work, driving business results, inventing new technology... and not getting nearly enough credit or attention for it.  The main reason for starting the list was to recognize these women in a way that obviated the constant conversations about how hard it is to find women to speak at conferences or judge awards programs.  As I've compiled this list, I've been amazed at the generosity of the people who've contributed great women to it, and shocked at how reluctant those same, equally accomplished women are, to nominate themselves.  These women work hard and smart and creatively, and then they forget to or avoid taking some of the credit. I think it's that nice, smart, creative people who make things, tend to be generous with their effort and their praise.  For women, this generosity of spirit can seem to conflict with credit-taking.  So I've been happy to be the one giving that credit.

There are so many different women's networking organizations in New York. Which ones have you found to be particularly helpful?

Change The Ratio has been a life-changer for me - I went to one event and everything changed. I made amazing friends, I was inspired to start the list on my own blog, and it's continued to fuel my desire to express my own entrepreneurial spirit.  Women 2.0 was the next group I encountered, because of some things I wrote after getting involved in Change The Ratio - and they are amazing: vibrant, growing, making change for women, fostering real businesses. But I think the tech scene is much more democratic than the VC dollars and TCDisrupt speaker lists would indicate: a lot of the best, most productive networking I've done here has been through Digital DUMBO (female co-founder!) and through StartUp Weekend.  I encourage more women to attend - you meet those nice, smart, creative people who make things, and it's incredibly inspiring.

I often find myself full of ideas, wanting to create something but need a partner to keep me on track. Can you recommend an organization that can help me find a future business partner.

Women 2.0 and Founder Labs! 5 weeks from nothing to a business - it's an amazing process, with fantastic mentors and a great track record.  Despite the name, they seek balance in the founder teams they assemble - 50/50 female/male, 50/50 business/tech.  It's awesome how they pull that diversity together.  Tech Stars is also an excellent program with committed mentors and founders.  But I also wouldn't discount StartUp Weekend - you meet a variety of people on the Friday, some who are committed and driven, some who are curious and dabbling.  But by Sunday, everyone is serious about making something and transforming that something into a business.

Keeping up with email, blogging and contacts can be an all-consuming process. What tools do you use that have helped you juggle all these tasks?

I'm a bit of a mess when it comes to all of this, but I have a few tools I love.  At home I use Sparrow as my mail client, but I'm only just getting used to it; the labeling options allow me to keep track of things relatively easily - but on the go, gmail is my savior. It's very good at knowing what actually is urgent to me, and the ability to star items helped keep this email, for example, on my radar.  But the truth is I do most of my communicating on a one-to-one basis in Twitter - through @-replies and direct messaging I can carry on a lot of conversations... Of course,this isn't appropriate for everyone, or everything, but it does keep the ideas pithy. :)

Blogging is tough - I probably didn't blog for about six months, until my boyfriend wrote a piece of middleware for me that allows me to favorite items in Twitter, and it goes through those favorites, scrapes the links, and deposits those linked sites/articles into ReadItLater, which I then go back to on my iPad.  I also use Evernote at conferences and as a place to save quotations or scraps of the articles I've read.  I always have something to write about, now.

Contacts... my iPhone holds everything, and increasingly I'm using Hashable and Twitter to capture contact information. When it comes to the list, however, we're building a CMS for that - I hope we'll finish it by the middle of July.

Was there a particular moment in your career or piece of advice that inspired you to get to where you are today?

I've had a few, I think.  My dad was a network consultant in the early '90s and installed the network at Wieden + Kennedy; he told me that this was the kind of environment I should work in.  When I was in college at University of Oregon, I took a copywriting class; the instructor, Ann Maxwell, did a mid-term check-in and told me that while I said I wanted to go into account management, I was a talented writer and should pursue a creative career instead.  She had Clios and gold pencils in her office, so I decided to believe her.  The next was when I was struggling to find work in an agency after the startup I worked in began to falter and sacked me; the head of the Apple account at Chiat/Day, Sean Hardwick, said that I belonged in an agency like that, and that while he didn't have the *right* job for me, he had a job, and that he was going to offer it because he didn't want to get in the way of my dream.  Who says things like that??

It was at Chiat that I saw what planning was really all about, day to day, and made the transition to that role.  A planner I worked with there, Elena Hale, told me that planning was about making advertising effective, and I really warmed to the power of that idea.  And then Robin Hafitz, my mentor and friend, hired me to be a brand strategist; I could see myself in her, and I suppose she might have seen a bit of herself in me.  She's been an amazing advocate.

Rachel Sklar inspired me to make the list - with her energy and generosity and advocacy for women.  Cindy Gallop told me that an idea I had was too big to be 'just an app' and that it could really improve people's lives, which really energized me but also raised the bar for my own goals.  And the London-based agency, Made by Many, who I met through my great friend and champion, and entrepreneur, Noah Brier, has inspired me to think about innovation and strategy and digital/mobile/social experiences through the lens of the Lean Startup.

I think our lives are a series of these kinds of moments.  For every one of them, I've also been told something negative - that I'm commitment-phobic, that I 'can write, but not think', that I can give up if I want to, that I should just get a job in sales, that I should've taken the bar (I went to law school), that I'm cynical, that I push too hard or work too independently or give up too fast.  The trick, I think, is to keep people around you who you trust to be honest, who love you because of and despite your faults, to love them and trust them back, and to seek what you really want.  And if you don't know what you really want, knowing what you really DON'T want is useful, too.