Jennifer Putnam | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jennifer Putnam


Allen & Gerritsen (A&G) does strategy, public relations, design and a host of other marketing functions for brands big and small. From offices in Philadelphia and Boston, they've led tech-savvy campaigns for clients as diverse as Beats by Dr. Dre and the L.A. Zoo.


The Mistake:

The mistake for me was thinking I couldn't take a passion of mine and make a career out of it.

I was hired right out of college, and I'd fallen in love with design and art and sort of the art of advertising. A little background: my whole family has dedicated their lives to doing good for others. My parents met in the Peace Corps; my father has really dedicated his life to the AIDS epidemic globally and my mother has always stood up for women and been a voice for women. So I was a little bit tortured coming out of college with whether I take this opportunity to go into advertising or really think about doing work that was—for lack of a better word—more meaningful.

I remember my grandmother saying to me, “Why in the world can't you do both? Why can't you think about using this platform to actually make the kind of change you would like to see?” So my mistake was thinking I couldn't do that.

Maybe I didn't push hard enough early in my career as a result. Probably in a couple incidences, I didn't pursue the opportunities that I think some of the brands I worked with had a stronger story to tell. For instance, Secret deodorant. At the time, the tagline was, believe it or not, “strong enough for a man, made for a woman.” I spoke to them directly about the fact that if we're going to be celebrating the strength of women, why isn't the tagline “strong enough for a woman?"

Flash forward ten, 20 years and you see that we are starting to be more thoughtful about how we're sending these messages out. ... I wish I could say we’ve come farther, however. There is still much to do and the commitment and support of the full industry, including clients, is so essential.

The question is, what is it that's intrinsic to your brand that can help empower a consumer and actually make them feel better about your brand and make them feel better about themselves? You know, bring some value to them.

What is it that's intrinsic to your brand that can help empower a consumer?

The Lesson:

Since day one in advertising as an art director, I have made it a point to make sure everything I do has a greater purpose, that I'm telling a story that matters, that I'm adding value to the consumer's lives. I guess all I can say is, intrinsically believe it's right and you have a passion for shaping change, that you need to find a way that you can achieve that.

Being a woman in advertising has been a huge challenge. To this day we have a dearth of female creative leads in the industry. But I pursued and I wanted very much to be a part of it. I believed so strongly in what I was capable of doing and what I could contribute. If it is your passion and if this is something you absolutely believe you can have an impact on, it's so important that you keep pursuing it.

More women than ever are assuming leadership roles in agencies. The 3 Percent Conference has been key to that progress, shining a light on the dearth of female creatives even though women have a major say in much of the brand choices and consumer spending across categories. It’s also true that more women in leadership roles help to make workplace culture more inclusive and collaborative. There's a radar I believe women frequently possess, perhaps in part because of the challenges we have faced, that makes us more sensitive to achieving balance and hearing from all points of view. And those attributes make better marketers. 

Emotional intelligence, sensitivity, empathy and respect are the traits I believe are defining and revealing the next generation of creative leaders, female and male—because those are the attributes that attract talent and build loyalty. Whether or not that’s what’s celebrated in industry awards, the rewards in creating a more inclusive industry where women and minorities can succeed are the truest measures of success for me.

Follow Jennifer Putnam on Twitter at @putnam49.

Photo courtesy of Allen & Gerritsen.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for our newsletter at Crain's.