Stefanie DiGianvincenzo: ‘Embrace Your Difference’



Think of the most creative person you’ve ever met then add empathy, humour and unwavering professionalism. Meet Stefanie DiGianvincenzo, a highly awarded creative who started at DDB and Clemenger BBDO before launching Melbourne’s first copywriting collective. Then, ready for her next challenge, Stefanie relocated to London where she landed associate creative director at Wunderman UK. She was later hired by AKQA London as Global Creative Lead on Nike Women; she now works as creative strategist at Facebook.

It’s enough to give anyone an ego, but Stefanie did the opposite of resting on her laurels. Together with Tara Mckenty, another talented creative, she founded Rare – a diversity experiment turned global movement. The program is now a large-scale leadership accelerator for underrepresented talent, led by Google.

Mavens interviewed Stefanie about all of it.

Tell us about your role as creative strategist at Facebook. What does a typical day look like for you?

The brilliant thing about my role at Facebook is that it’s whatever I want to make it, on any given day. Some days, I’ll take a brand’s business problem and solve it with a digital experience strategy. Other days, I’ll collaborate with a creative agency, as an extension of their creative team, to apply a campaign in an innovative way across the platforms.

Every brief is unique. Every job is an opportunity for me to tackle a problem in a way that excites me. And for that, I feel really fortunate to be in the role.

Right now, Rare with Google is the single most impactful program for accelerating the careers of underrepresented talent in Australia, and possibly the world. What is it that makes someone ‘rare’?

Rare is about being different – but embracing that difference for the power it brings to creativity and innovation.

There is no one label or identifier that makes you Rare. It might be an inherent diversity, like your gender, race, sexuality, ability or any number of aspects of yourself that impact the way you see the world. Or it might be something less obvious, like an acquired diversity – say you’ve lived abroad, experienced a big loss, or become a carer.

Ultimately, it’s a point of view or lived experience that you can bring to work that’s different to everybody else – but representative of a community that exists out there in the world.

Why is it so important that the ad industry continues to foster more inclusive teams?

We all live in our own bubble, built by the experiences we’ve had, and the networks of people we spend the most time with. And since that has such a strong influence over our ideas and what we make, ultimately we can only create for people who relate to us.

So if we fill a department with the same kinds of people, all living in the same kind of bubble, we’ll find we can only produce work for one kind of demographic – missing the majority of the population that we’re targeting.

And so, if we’re not fostering diverse teams, we’re not doing the job we’re paid to do. Which is, speak to the masses.

You founded Apostrophe, Melbourne’s first copywriting collective which has worked with Garnier, Adidas, P&G and more. In retrospect, what was your biggest challenge in starting (and running) a creative business?

I founded Apostrophe at just the right time in my life – wide-eyed and blissfully ignorant in my mid-twenties. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, which actually served me very well, because if I’d known how naive I was, and the risk I was taking, I would never have done it.

Looking back, the biggest challenge was the administrative and financial side of the business. I’d never managed clients, never managed teams, and never been exposed to the kinds of issues that often pop up when you’re in a leadership position.

I’m sure I’d find it much easier now – given how much I’ve grown and matured since. But of course, being older and wiser, I’m also much more risk-averse now, and probably wouldn’t take the same chance.

What skills and attributes do our creative leaders need, in order to produce innovative work?

There are a few key attributes that I’ve found to be common across all the best leaders I’ve worked with.

Empathy.

Authenticity.

Vulnerability.

These help to foster healthy cultures within a team, but also to tune into the very nuanced needs and desires of today’s consumers. Which is vital if you want to innovate in a meaningful way.

Conversely, there are a few attributes that slow innovation – or quash any chance of it happening completely.

Ego.

Arrogance.

An assumption that you know better than your team, or the people you’re designing for.

I think, as a creative leader, it’s just as important to watch that you don’t take on the negative attributes, as it is to ensure you’re cultivating the positive ones.

What can agencies and creative leaders do right now to attract and retain rare talent?

It’s really simple. Make sure they feel heard. Make sure they feel valued. Foster a culture of belonging, by celebrating difference. In doing so, you’ll find all the talent benefits – not just the Rare ones.

Who are your role models?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for her grit and resolve.

Beyonce, for her work ethic.

Sheryl Sandberg, for her self-awareness and commitment to growth.

And my mum, Pam DiGianvincenzo, for her unparalleled empathy.