Tell us what you do in one sentence. I persuade people to feel things about stuff that they wouldn’t otherwise.
Best day in the history of your career? There’s been heaps of great days, many moments that have energised me. But the one most perfect day? Standing in a five-kilometre stretch of cherry blossoms in Japan, shooting a campaign for an alcohol brand. Back in the glory days of work junkets and world travel. It snowed not long after we got the shot. We finished the day in a nearby restaurant, watching blossoms rain from the trees while eating udon.
Worst day in the history of your career? Being told I wouldn’t get my job back, while on maternity leave, because of my new status as a mother. I won’t go into the details. Experiencing discrimination did make me more resilient and more attuned to inequalities facing women in the workplace - but it was a rough learning curve I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through.
What’s your professional motto? Buy the ticket, take the ride. That’s Hunter S. Thompson’s, not mine. For me, it means once you decide to do something, follow it through and see where it leads. Could be amazing. Could be otherwise. But you’ll never know unless you go for it.
Can you tell us about your project, ‘Campaign Bechdel’?
During my second round of maternity leave, while watching a LOT of telly, I noticed a really grating trend - women in ads were far-too-frequently shown as sex objects, or used as props, instead of fully-rounded or fully-human.
I’ve worked with a few domestic violence prevention and gender equality organisations, and am passionate about improving how women are seen and heard in pop culture. Alison Bechdel’s 1980s-era comic Dykes to Watch Out For is where the film Bechdel Test first originated. In it, one woman explains to another that she has three rules to decide whether to see a movie: 1: It has to have at least two women in it; 2: who talk to each other; 3: about something other than a man. I adapted the three measures specifically for advertising, and started applying them to rate the quality of female representation in ads I saw in Australia, and around the world.
Campaign Bechdel became a unique way to measure gender stereotypes in advertising. At the time, it led the conversation on gender equality and better representation of women in advertising here in Australia. While it was an honour to have it recognised at D&AD, I was proud that it also resonated with people beyond our industry, started conversations about how we can represent women better, and gave me free space to explore what I could do with my creative voice.
What advice would you give your younger self, just starting out?
Seek out mentors, and award opportunities, early. They’ll set the trajectory for the rest of your career.
With a background in industrial design, art history and psychology, Sarah synthesises art and science in her role as associate creative director at M&C Saatchi Melbourne. Sarah’s work has been recognised at international and local awards shows, and she frequently speaks on industry panels. In her time, Sarah has developed interactive experiential installations for Honda, reimagined the future of business for Optus, helped ANZ bank feel more human, and persuaded 6 million Victorians to change their behaviour during the coronavirus pandemic. Sarah has substantial experience in the not-for-profit, public health, disability, gender equality and government sectors. Sarah is currently co-head of AWARD School Victoria. In between all that, Sarah keeps herself busy with student mentoring, guest lecturing, and child-rearing.