“See It & Be It”: Lisa Holtorf of Strategic America

Lisa Holtorf, VP, Operations and Integration at Strategic America
Lisa Holtorf, VP, Operations and Integration at Strategic America

In our “See It & Be It” series, the 4A’s asks industry leaders—who are female or from traditionally underrepresented groups in the ad industry—to provide their personal stories, advice and observations on how to succeed in an industry that is overwhelmingly led by white men. Here is what Lisa Holtorf, VP, Operations and Integration at Strategic America

In 2016, why do you think it’s still necessary to talk about opportunities for women in the industry, and how women are portrayed in advertising?

 We’re talking about a cultural shift, and those not only take time, but they also tend to evolve in fits and starts. To advance leadership opportunities for women within the industry—and to create thoughtful, effective and open conversations about just how to do that—requires many voices speaking up. Those voices can be heard in a boardroom or through social media; and through thought leadership, mentorship or at conferences and speaking engagements. No matter how big or small the platform, it takes courage to share what we have learned, where we have been successful and even where we have failed. If strong women leaders in our industry remain committed to elevating the conversation, to inspiring women of all ages and to staying focused on the challenges and opportunities that we face, the shift will continue. And we are making progress.

Do you think women, people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities face similar issues in the ad industry? 

Yes, in that women face limitations because of perceived or inherent biases. The nature of those biases is different relative to the group, whether women, people of color, LGBTQ or people with disabilities. But, the unwavering commitment by these groups to eliminate those biases, has and will continue to drive change. Whether you are in Iowa, on one of the coasts or somewhere in between, the issues faced today won’t be the same issues faced in the future.

What advice would you give to a 20-year-old woman on succeeding in the advertising industry?

Search for a company that embraces curious professionals, those seeking knowledge and understanding. Then when you identify that company, find a way to work there. A company like that will invest in you, through mentorship opportunities.

An example of such an investment is the “Luminaries: Women Leaders in the Workplace” thought leadership series that Strategic America recently developed. This series was inspired by a female associate asking our CEO how young people can make it today. The resulting series offers young women and all associates, regardless of age or gender, an opportunity to interact with strong women leaders both locally and nationally. Through personal stories and relatable anecdotes, these strong women leaders share their personal journey to “making it”; illuminating where they embraced challenges instead of shying away from them, and how they turned those challenges into opportunities. While the women admitted being unsure, challenged or just plain scared at times along the way (something easy to relate to), they never limited themselves or allowed others to limit them based on age or gender—and neither should you. That is my advice and has been my experience, too.

Would you want your daughter to pursue a career in advertising? If not, why not? 

Yes, but only if she loved the idea of going to work every day to constant, often unpredictable, change. And only if she loved the idea of embracing her inner child—ever curious, always seeking and continually growing. And finally, only if she loved identifying problems and working to solve them. Only if she loved these things, would I encourage her to pursue a career in advertising.

What did you do to survive and thrive in advertising? 

First, I overcame a promise to myself to never work in advertising. But that was only because I lucked into an opportunity to work for an advertising company that truly cares about, invests in and trusts its people. Then, much like the women leaders who have spoken during our Luminaries series, every time an opportunity presented itself or someone asked me to do something (even when I wasn’t qualified for/or experienced at it), I took a deep breath and said yes. I never saw myself as young, as female or as untested. And while others may have, it didn’t stop them from recognizing my potential, my resolve to make things happen or my understanding that I needed others to help us be successful.

Over the years I’ve learned:

  • Only by finding and hiring others whose talents could push me and our organization forward have we succeeded.
  • Only by teaching and learning from those people and then getting out of the way has there been opportunity for all of us to grow.
  • Only by never asking someone else to do things that I would not willingly do myself have we learned to trust each other.
  • And finally, only by finding the courage to continually step beyond where I’m comfortable and confident, and tearing down personal barriers I have placed in my way, have I continued to grow.