Backstage Q-and-A With Jonathan Mildenhall

November 2, 2018

Jonathan Mildenhall [john elsasser]
Jonathan Mildenhall [john elsasser]

You used the phrase “I’ve got your back” several times during your presentation. What does it mean when you say that to your teams?

I see my role as a protector of ideas and creative people. Early in my career, as I was coming up through the advertising ranks in London, I realized that my credibility came from protecting young creators and their creative ideas. And that mindset of, “If it works, you get the glory; if it fails, I’ll take the bullet,” is still relevant today, 30 years later, because creativity is a scary and chaotic process. You just need one person who shows confidence, and then everybody’s confidence around the creative agenda can be enhanced.

What’s your advice for brands that want to speak out on politically charged topics?

I’ve only taken my brands into sensitive areas when the area is a foundation of that company’s purpose. Unless the issue is an existing part of the company’s narrative, you shouldn’t lean into it — because then it just looks like opportunistic marketing, which is terrible. However, there are many companies that say they have commitments to making society better, making humanity better, more diverse, inclusive, equitable. If you are that company or your brand has those commitments in its narrative, then it legitimizes you leaning into it. But if a company or brand doesn’t have those commitments in its narrative, then I would err away from stepping into those kinds of conversations.

You’ve championed diversity throughout your career. How are diversity efforts in marketing communications shaping up in Silicon Valley?

Diversity in executive recruitment, female leadership and ethnic-minority onboarding is still woefully slow. We all have to lend our voices. It’s heartbreaking to think there is diversity fatigue. I cannot think of another issue that is as important as all companies representing the communities that they serve. — John Elsasser


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