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Women in Business Q&A: Cindy Gustafson, Founder, Managing Director, Invention Studio, Mindshare North America


As Founder and Managing Director, Cindy's work in the Mindshare Invention Studio brings the concept of "Media-As-Creative" to life. She and her team merge data, science, and creativity to ignite media plans that have a real cultural impact for consumers. In doing so, Cindy drives a wide range of bespoke ideas for clients including ideas for new potential partners, emerging technologies, and never-before-done activations for existing platforms.

Cindy is also the architect of Planning for Agility - a proprietary framework and series of client programs that helps brands develop an adaptive marketing strategy across the entire paid, owned, and earned ecosystem. Using specially designed tools, Cindy works with teams to do 'culture mapping' and to identify triggers that align with the brand's DNA and campaign message. The end result is a toolkit of assets that can be nimbly applied in real-time, systematically harnessing the power of media moving at the speed of culture.

Prior to founding the Invention Studio in 2013, Cindy served as Managing Director for Mindshare's Team Unilever. Her work has been honored across the industry, including Adweek's Media Plan of the Year, Cannes Lions, the Effies, IAB MIXX, and more. And, she personally has been recognized as an Adweek Media All Star, one of Cynopsis Media's Top Women in Digital, and one of Advertising Week's Mad Men (and Women) 3.0. In November, Cindy was inducted into the American Advertising Federation's 2015 Advertising Hall of Achievement - the industry's premier award for outstanding advertising leaders age 40 and under.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I spent more than two decades playing team sports. Sports teach you to be competitive -- with your opponent, and with yourself. You learn your strengths and weaknesses and, based on that, how to work with others for the greatest results. You figure out how to anticipate what your competition has planned, and stay two (or more) steps ahead. You learn that without discipline and dedication there is no success.

Additionally, I grew up surrounded with a balance of science and art. My father was an analytical engineer and my mother was a classically trained musician and instructor. These juxtaposing forces, which complemented each other so perfectly, directly influenced who I am and how I like to approach my work.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Mindshare?

I got my first taste of the advertising industry while at Chiat Day on the west coast. I then moved on a bit later to BBH back in New York. Both agencies made me realize the importance of creative and media working together. And not just saying it - but doing it. The two are not separate and if one isn't obsessed with the other, you cannot build a brand that's culturally relevant.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Mindshare?

Elevating the importance of media as part of a brand's marketing efforts - and pushing the boundaries of what people and clients expect from media agencies - has been particularly rewarding.

Sometimes it means designing an incredibly unorthodox strategy, like we did when debuting Magnum ice cream in the U.S. Our launch approach was marked by throwing standard CPG guidelines out the window; instead we adopted marketing principles from the world of high fashion and blockbuster movie premieres. Or, recently, we helped Dove address the evolution of self-esteem drivers in women and young girls by designing a partnership between the brand and Twitter that encourages women to be more positive when tweeting about beauty and body image. Our goal is to always create ideas and approaches that push brands to think differently; to use media in unique ways that drive cultural impact and business results

Probably the biggest challenge has come about recently: getting brands to move at the speed of culture across ALL of their marketing efforts. There has been an age-old lag between planning timelines / campaign development and the pace at which the cultural zeitgeist moves. Designing a method that systematically harnesses the power of marketing moving at the speed of culture has been a labor of love for me. We call it Planning For Agility. This proprietary process has really started to get brands on their front foot to adjust their paid marketing efforts -- the live campaign itself - around moments that happen in culture and map to a brand's DNA and campaign idea. Coupling this strategy with The LOOP - our operating system -- enables us to understand insights in real-time and turn them into real-time actions. We're getting brand to be more adaptive every day, but the industry still has a long way to go.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in your industry?

Do it. Do it without hesitation and with as much energy and passion as you've got. The pace is fast and the pressure can be intense, but it's an industry filled with intriguing, eclectic, fun, intelligent, and curious people. They make the ride worth it every day. They push you, they teach you, they frustrate you {on rare occasions}, but inspire you always. It's an industry that offers truly new experiences every single day. Do it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

There is no "balance" since life and work are intertwined in an always-on world, especially in this industry. But that's okay. Your home life creates and influences unique perspectives at work, and work can give you a different perspective on your life. Know that, embrace it, and harness it (just think about scheduling at least one long weekend somewhere where there's no phone or internet access).

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Generally in corporate America, you find fewer and fewer women as roles and responsibilities increase, so senior-level women sometimes feel the intense pressure to succeed and to prove themselves. We need to create an environment where even more women feel motivated to pursue the highest levels in a company. Seeing other women hold these roles -- women who are relatable, passionate, and don't all fit the exact same mold-- can inspire others.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I've been fortunate to have a handful of mentors throughout my time in the industry; an incredible combination of both agency AND client leaders. Two people in particular who made the greatest impact on who I am now, taught me that it is our people that come first and to fight for those you believe in. Fall on your sword and go to battle because great people are our industry's scarcest resource.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

It's hard for me to focus on just one as I've found myself lucky enough to be surrounded by many over the years. Stacy Minero, who now runs Content Strategy at Twitter, inspires me with her future-forward thinking. We worked together at Mindshare for many years, and she was one of the first people to teach me that an obsession with the future is the way to uncover a brand's potential today. Renee Milliaressis, who became our first COO, is also a force. She cares intensely about clients, but even more about her teams. And while she is data-driven, she's also still a dreamer - that's a balance that every leader should strive for.

What do you want Mindshare to accomplish in the next year?

I want Mindshare to continue working restlessly to be acknowledged as the most creative media agency in the industry. That means continuing to do work that pushes the boundaries of what clients and people expect from media. Media is a competitive advantage for our clients; our adaptive approach creates new interactions between people and brands, new partnerships, products, and new ways of working. And most importantly of all, we have a lot of fun along the way. This is a thriving, exciting time to be in the industry - anything is possible.

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