Episode 026: Female Leadership in Advertising & Helping Brands Make Impact with Mira Kaddoura
Mira Kaddoura is a feminist advocate, creative master-mind and the founder of Red & Co.: a female and minority owned boutique consultancy that helps brands make a meaningful impact on society. A staunch advocate of female leadership, gender equality and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Mira is passionate about harnessing creative campaigns to help build a more equitable world for all.
Join us as Mira talks about her experience leading one of the world’s only woman-owned advertising agencies, her drive to challenge inequitable status quos through creative media, the importance of centering diverse voices and talent, and the imprint she’s left on our cultural landscape through campaigns for Google, Netflix and more.
- How a college art project about media influence and free-thinking landed Mira her first job at one of the world’s top creative agencies, Wieden+Kennedy
- Mira’s experience with the gendered wage gap in the professional world
- How Red & Co. is disrupting ad industry and cultural norms through innovative campaigns, like:
- “Made With Code,” a gender diversification campaign for Google that got 5 million girls into coding
- Reinventing Netflix’s brand strategy to center diversity, equity and inclusion in a way that revolutionized Hollywood streaming
- Mira’s thoughts on how the advertising, branding and marketing space can do better to be more inclusive and equitable – and how she practices this work in her professional and philanthropic endeavors
Mira Kaddoura is founder of Red & Co.: a female and minority owned boutique consultancy that helps brands make a larger, more meaningful impact on society. Red & Co. created “Made with Code,” one of Google’s most important initiatives to diversify the tech industry and Netflix’s lauded brand campaign, “Make Room,” which positioned Netflix as a champion of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
Mira got started at Wieden+Kennedy, Nike’s long-time advertising agency, creating award-winning campaigns for Nike, The Girl Effect & Travel Oregon. As a staunch advocate of female leadership, gender equity, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, her work has been featured on Good Morning America, in the New York Times, Fast Company and other prominent media platforms. Most recently, she hosted a TEDx Talk called “How women can change the world by asking ‘Why not me?” In 2019, Mira was awarded Ad Age’s “Women to Watch” and Adweek’s “Creative 100” and Portland Advertising Federation’s “Ad Person of the Year.” Her work has also won Cannes Lions, TED’s Ads Worth Spreading, D&AD Pencils, Effies, Clios, Communications Arts and Webbys.
Mira is known for her conceptual interactive art projects that challenge rigid cultural assumptions around feminism and biology. Her philanthropic efforts include sitting on the board of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation and 600 & Rising: a non-profit & advocacy group whose mission is to dismantle systemic racism & advocate for Black talent in advertising and public relations.
Mira is an Egyptian-born Lebanese Palestinian fluent in Arabic, French and English. Her passions are her family, her mindful practices and learning to cook her mamas love-filled food. She sees nature as her greatest teacher. She is proud to be raising three multicultural, multiracial and multilingual daughters.
Jessica Williams 0:02
Welcome to the Days for Girls Podcast, a show about breaking barriers for women and girls around the world. I'm your host, Jessica Williams, Chief Communications Officer at Days for Girls International. At Days for Girls, we believe in a world where periods are never a problem. We are on a mission to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation by increasing access to sustainable period products and menstrual health education for all people with periods.
Today's guest is Mira Kaddoura, the founder of Red & Co: a female and minority owned boutique consultancy that helps brands make a larger, more meaningful impact on society. Red & Co. created “Made with Code,” one of Google’s most important initiatives to diversify the tech industry. They also created Netflix’s lauded brand campaign, “Make Room,” which positioned Netflix as a champion of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Mira got started at Wieden+Kennedy, Nike’s long time advertising agency, creating award-winning campaigns for Nike, The Girl Effect & Travel Oregon. She is a staunch advocate of female leadership, gender equity and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Mira and her work have also been featured on Good Morning America, in the New York Times, Best Company and other prominent media platforms. Her recent TEDx talk “How women can change the world by asking ‘Why not me?” shares a lot of her thoughts on the world. Mira is an Egyptian-born Lebanese Palestinian, fluent in Arabic, French and English. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Now, let's go on to the show.
Mira, it is so incredible to have you on the Days for Girls Podcast. It's such an honor that we get to interview you. How are you today?
Mira Kaddoura 1:51
I'm good. Thank you for asking.
Jessica Williams 1:53
Yeah, absolutely. So you're my first person I think I've interviewed who actually lives in Portland like myself.
Mira Kaddoura 2:01
Oh, wow. Yeah. For some reason, like we work with so many people outside of Portland. So it's kind of a treat when you get to actually connect with somebody in Portland.
Jessica Williams 2:10
It is, it is. So I'm really looking forward to this conversation. But you're not originally from Portland and you're not originally from the United States. Can you talk about your story of growing up in the Middle East and coming to the United States for college? And can you just take us into a little bit of your upbringing and how you got here?
Mira Kaddoura 2:30
Yeah, sure. So I was born in Alexandria, Egypt. I grew up between Beirut, Lebanon, and Toronto, Canada. My family's both Lebanese and Palestinian. And I came to the US for graduate studies. After I finished my undergrad at the American University in Beirut, when I graduated there, then I came to the US and did my graduate studies here, and then went back to Beirut thinking that I'm probably… you know, I really wanted to work in Europe, thinking that I would be interviewing and applying for jobs in Europe. And then by a lot of just the universe and stars aligning, I got a job at Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, and that's what made me kind of come more permanently to the US. And I remember my dad even saying like, did you pick the furthest place away from me to move to? So I moved from Beirut, Lebanon to Portland, Oregon, which is you know, quite over 6000 miles away.
Jessica Williams 3:34
Yeah, that's that's a long way. And since I live here, I know what a big deal it is to get a job at Wieden+Kennedy. But maybe a lot of people don't know that. So for those people who don't know, it's arguably one of the best ad agencies in the world. And it's, your story's really cool, because you did an art project in college that got the attention of Wieden+Kennedy. It's a really cool project. I thought you could maybe tell us more about that. And how Wieden+Kennedy became aware of it and what happened next?
Mira Kaddoura 4:03
Yeah, sure. So when I moved to the states for my graduate studies, during this program, I was in an advertising Mass Communications program. And during this program, one of the classes I was taking asked us to do kind of a conceptual interactive art project. And the theme that I picked to do my conceptual interactive art project about was basically – when I first moved here, you know, growing up in Beirut, people were kind of obsessive a little bit. We read a lot, we listen to a lot of things, and then we kind of, we don't trust any of it. You know, we don't trust anybody's one opinion. We always want to make our own opinions. So when I first moved to the US, I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and I was really kind of surprised that people would just take whatever the media said kind of blindly a little bit and not question it in any way. And just take it as the truth. And this is, you know, we're talking 20 years ago. I think now, you know, fake news is kind of a hot topic. But back then it was like, how do you even believe that? Like, do you? Have you read anything about this? Have you fact checked any of this? Like, how do you just believe it as if it's like, you know, the truth and you haven't really kind of dug into it?
So I decided to do a whole interactive project around that topic where I basically had, on a really big mural, I had all these different images of things that we see in the media. So it's everything from you know, what we're told to eat, what we're told to wear, what we're told to look like, how we're told to learn, like just everything. It was all these different visuals and images that told you how to look or be in the world. And underneath this big mural, I had this opinions box and asked you for your opinion, to kind of say your opinion on everything that you're seeing. Like all these different images that you're fed every day and asked you for your opinion about the project. And as people took time to kind of fill out these different little kind of opinion slips, they would put it into the opinions box, and I had hidden a shredder underneath the opinions box that would shred everybody's opinion as soon as they put it in there. So for me, that was like a really powerful way to kind of tell people that we don't really care about your opinions, because we send you what you think is your point of view. So it doesn't really matter what your opinion is, because we've kind of fed it to you. So it's just a really provocative way for me to to really get people talking about this subject. And through a professor of mine, this project kind of found its way to Wieden+Kenned and on to Dan Wieden's desk and he saw that project. And he's kind of very, very well known for hiring people in a very non-traditional way. And he saw that project, and he thought it was brilliant. And he decided basically to hire me out of grad school, just based on that project alone, without ever seeing like any kind of traditional portfolio at all, even though, you know, I did have one, but that was basically the project that sold him on me.
Jessica Williams 7:10
I have heard of his unorthodox hiring. Yes, it's pretty visionary that way.
Mira Kaddoura 7:16
Jessica Williams 7:17
So cool. Now you're working at Wieden+Kennedy? And how long were you working there before you started to realize that – and you say this in your TED talk, and I love this story because this happened to me too – you learned that your male counterpart was making more money for you. When you were working at Wieden+Kennedy, can you talk about that whole piece of your TED talk and how you handled that situation?
Mira Kaddoura 7:42
Yeah, I was there for 10 years. And you know, 10 years is a long time in a job anyway, you know, but at least back then, people tended to to stay at that place. Because, you know, you're constantly flying around the world, you're in and out of Portland, you know, you kind of stay there. Because you're just sitting on all this, you know, I was working on Nike, so I got to work on all this inspiring work. And I was an athlete growing up. So for me, it was like, you know, I get to work on this thing that I was really passionate about. And then years kind of flew by. But then I was starting to, there's just like some things that started to kind of pop up for me that I was starting to feel like, getting an itch to, like, do different things. And, you know, I had some projects in mind that I wanted to do, and I knew I wouldn't have time for. And then, you know, I think all these things started bubbling up for me. And I think, seeing I actually saw what one of my male counterparts that I was partnered with at the time, which you know, he had the same number of years of experience, same talent, you know, we were partners on a project doing the project with very, very similar talents. I found out that he was making double what I was making. So for me, it almost became like, just what I needed to kind of make that decision. It was like the universe giving me a sign. So yeah, I could have kind of been so angry about it and been…you know, gone up and asked to, like, figure it out and get adjusted and do all these things. But it almost like became like the sign I needed from the universe to just kind of quit that job. And realize that I had so much in me that I wanted to do in the world. And it was just the time to kind of go out and do them.
Yeah, I'm so glad you took that. And you went on to do what you're doing now. Because what you're doing now is so impactful. You created your own ad agency. And you did this – one of the reasons it sounds like you did this was to challenge a lot of norms in advertising. So can you tell us a little bit about that? The advertising world and the norms that your your agency is working to overcome?
Yeah, absolutely. So I think I named this in my TED talk, but there's like over 18,000 agencies in the US alone that have national and global clients. And out of those, there's less than, like 0.01% that are founded by a woman. So most of these companies in this industry are founded by men. And they're mostly founded by white men. So for me, it was like, what a huge opportunity. You know, I'm an immigrant in this country, I'm a minority in this country, I'm a woman in this country, you know, what a huge opportunity to have a different voice in this industry. And to really do work that empowers people, and to really do work with brands to try to make a larger and more meaningful impact on society. You know, I just thought, wow, like, if I could take everything I loved about this talent I have, in this thing that I do for a living, and take all the good stuff, and then none of the bad stuff and build that… I want to do that! So that's kind of how this thing got birthed. And that's why here and doing it.
Jessica Williams 10:59
Mm hmm. And you've worked on some really cool campaigns and brands. So can you talk about some of your favorites and how you've made a difference?
Mira Kaddoura 11:09
Yeah, sure. So one of my favorites is a project we worked with Google on. And Google came to us and said, you know, only 1% our of girls are majoring in computer science, which means that women are really not creating any of the technology that we're using every day. And the stats, in terms of girls coding, are more dire than they were in the '80s. We're talking 40 years ago, we're kind of in a worse place than they were back then. So how do we change that? How do we – obviously this is like a huge pipeline problem for Google – but how do we change that? How do we inspire this next generation of girls to code and create like, all the things that they can be created by having a different voice in this industry? So we created, instead of just creating like a TV commercial, or, you know, just like one piece of communication, we kind of went away and we said, you know, if we really want to change this and do something really transformative, we need to create a program. This is not going to get solved by just doing a piece of communication. Yes, we have a perception problem. And we have to change that. But that's just like one small piece of this whole puzzle, we really need to create a whole program. And the first step is: we need to inspire both parents and educators to see the value of code. Because if, as a parent, you didn't grow up with it, you're not going to know the value of it. If you're an educator and you've been, you know, a teacher for 40 years, you also maybe don't know the value of it. So we did a film for parents and educators to inspire them and see the value of code, then we said for the kids, for these girls, you know, how can you get into a field and you don't have any role models?
So we literally went about – and this was in 2014, so it wasn't like you can Google “women and girls in tech” and you would find like a million, a million girls and women doing amazing things. So we literally like picked up the phone, cold called around, like tried to find these different women and girls in all these different industries – whether it was, you know, diagnosing breast cancer early through code, or whether it was doing doing humanitarian work at UNICEF through code, or whether it was creating musical beats with code or doing Pixar Animation movies with code. We really found like a real diverse collection of women and girls, in all these different industries, doing these amazing things, and we did documentaries with them. And our kind of big idea over this entire platform was, you know, we're not going to talk about code as an end in itself, we're going to talk about it as a means to something bigger, as a means to something that girls are already passionate about. So we're going to connect it to their passions instead of talking about it as an end. So we connected code to fashion, we connected code to music, we connected code to animation, we connected code to all these things that girls are already passionate about. So suddenly, they started caring. And as soon as you know, we finished the films and the documentaries we on made with code.com, which was probably live for at least five years, we created all these different coding projects, so girls can get coding right away.
And, you know, at the time, there was no way to code except on the desktop computer. And our phones were just at that point where they were starting to get capacity to be able to do more stuff. So we created the first coding mobile experiences, you know, so girls can be on their phones coding and not just on desktop computers, because we all know girls are not sitting down on their desktop computers all day long. So we got girls coding right away and we did 13 different coding projects to get them coding and they also spanned like all these different fun projects, you know, animating a yeti on stage or making a musical beat that you can download, etc. And then we created a whole directory. So if you're a girl, you're inspired, and then you started coding, you can also go to your mom, you can put in your zip code on the website, and you can say, Hey, Mom, there's this really great camp this summer in San Francisco, or there's this really great after school school class, or this really cool, you know, program that I would love to take with this nonprofit, the summer or after school, and then you created this whole ecosystem, to help these girls. And we partnered with all sorts of different nonprofits, Black Girls Code, and Girls Who Code, even MIT – you know, educational institutions to really kind of hug everybody together into this one place. And then obviously did like launch event and all that stuff. But that's how we basically change this. And our goal was to get 1 million girls coding, and I think six months after launch, we already had 5 million girls who had coded on the website.
Jessica Williams 16:06
That's incredible. I love that so much. It must have been such a fun project.
Mira Kaddoura 16:12
It was fun. And it was very challenging, because we were creating software for Google. So it's no small feat.
Jessica Williams 16:21
And you also did a really interesting project with Netflix that I want to make sure we touch on because that was that one's cool as well, and works on a lot of ways diversity and inclusion. So can you tell us more about the Netflix project?
Mira Kaddoura 16:34
Yeah, of course. So Netflix came to us at a really interesting juncture. It was to 2018. And they got to a point where, you know, they were doing amazingly well. They were doing amazing content, but they couldn't just stand for content. You know, everybody was coming for their piece of the pie. Amazon was doing its business, Hulu, Apple+ was coming, Disney+ was coming, you know, all the streaming platforms were kind of coming for Netflix's business. So it couldn't just stand for like endless content. So they came to us with a global brand strategy positioning project. And through that project, we obviously worked on their global brand strategy and kind of helped position them to have a unique positioning in the marketplace. But then what we also did, we started uncovering different opportunities for them as a brand, because when you get those projects, you really do a ton of research on the on the client and on the brand. And you uncover a lot of different opportunities that you see for them to be saying something that their competitors cannot. So through one of those opportunities, which you know, we ended up uncovering seven different opportunities in the road, seven different briefs for each of those opportunities. One of those opportunities was, through our strategy work, we wrote that one of their brand pillars was diversity, equity, and inclusion. And they've completely disrupted Hollywood, they've disrupted the way we make movies, who's in front of the camera, who's behind the camera, who writes the movies, who acts in the movies, they've changed the way we distribute movies, they've changed the way we make movies, they don't ship America to the world, like Disney does. They basically go to Spain, and they hire local crews, local directors, local writers, and they create shows like [inaudible]. And then it goes out back into the world. So they really kind of localized content. And that's completely completely disruptive in Hollywood.
So we said you really need to stand for this before another company comes along. And stands for this before you do you know, because it's only a matter of time before people pick up on you know, needing to be equitable, and be diverse and be inclusive in their in their content. So we created this one piece of film for them that launched for Oscar season in 2019. And they launched it with no paid media behind it. They just launched it on their social channels. And it basically became their most successful brand campaign to date at the time. And they had a huge, huge amount of press for this one piece of communication that they put no media behind, which was quite incredible. So it really, I remember people saying like, this deserves an Oscar, you know, and people crying in the comments on social media. So it was really quite a powerful piece for them to put out in the world and kind of stand for who they are. And part of what makes them unique.
Jessica Williams 19:36
Mm hmm. Yeah, love that. So I would be missing an incredible opportunity if I didn't ask you this question. So I'm a comms person. I've been in communications my entire career. Can you just give us your advice about some practical ways you think the world of advertising, branding and marketing can do better to be more inclusive and equitable? It sounds so simple, but it's not easy.
Mira Kaddoura 20:11
I would say, like, I'm constantly pushing myself to be uncomfortable and to do things that I know are not the norm or not the status quo. And I feel it's like such a simple thing. But it's not an easy thing. Like, I'll give you an example. I can't mention the brand that we're currently working on. But, you know, for example, working on this brand right now, that has an industry that has not changed forever, and we're totally trying to disrupt this industry, to really build out this brand. And the work that we're doing for this brand, is not only showing very diverse people in the actual work that you see, that you're going to see on screen and in the work. So everything from, you know, different religious representations, different sexual orientations, just basically everything… like trans representation, people of color, different religions, all that stuff. But not only that, but also in the making of all this work, we're basically hiring and empowering and paying people who have been, like, historically underrepresented, and have not been given opportunity. So that is a really simple thing. But it is not easy to do, because it takes a lot of people that are really clear that we need to put an effort to do this, like it is not easy.
Like I'll give you an example. On this one piece of film we're doing, you know, we were searching for female or BIPOC DP's, so cinematographers, basically. And it was not an easy task to find a lot of women and people of color that were really talented DPs, and I asked so many people in this industry, and everybody would be like, Oh, I don't know, I don't know, you know, I'm scratching my head. That's a tough one, you know, everybody, they come up with, like white and male. And I'm like, it can't be that hard. And it just takes like, asking and asking and asking and asking until you uncover. And to be honest, like now we've landed with some amazing, diverse people. And we've given jobs to these people that, you know, do not get opportunities. And I think that you have to do the work. Like nothing, no change happens without doing the work. And doing the work that sometimes, is oftentimes uncomfortable to do. The easy, the easy option is to hire the person you've always hired. That's the easy option. Right? The hard option is to hire the person that's never been given opportunity and go out of your way to make sure that they get the work.
Jessica Williams 23:14
Yeah, yeah, that's great advice.
Mira Kaddoura 23:18
From personal experience, it is can be hard, you know, and it does take patience and and perseverance, but the payoff is huge. The work I think is better when it's has diverse representation in, you know, from the creators all the way into the actual content, of course. And the numbers back it up, like the finances even back it up. There's like real stats about like, company revenue increases by like 15% when you have a diverse group of people thinking about something. You know, it's like it has impact on the bottom line, but somehow people just kind of…it's just easy to keep doing what you know.
Jessica Williams 23:57
Yeah, yeah. So I also want to touch on the fact that you're a part of an advisory board for an initiative called 600 and Rising. And I would love if you could just tell us a little bit more about that initiative and what you're doing as part of that group.
Mira Kaddoura 24:13
Yeah, of course. So 600 and Rising was basically an organization that was formed almost a year ago, that basically advocates for black talent, black voices to advance in this industry, in advertising and public relations. Whether at an advertising agency, like an external advertising agency, or marketing and advertising departments inside of brands. So I'm the only non-black minority on this board. And we basically work together. We're all obviously volunteers in this organization, and we basically do all sorts of work around equity, pay equity advancements, you know, advocating for representation in this industry, because it is insane that there's so little representation of black talent in this industry. So that's what that's about.
Jessica Williams 25:14
Very cool. Mira, this has just been so fun. I feel like we could talk a ton, but I know your time is limited. So before I let you go, where can people connect with you and your work and find out more about all of the incredible things that you're doing?
Mira Kaddoura 25:29
So my social handle is just @mirakaddoura and then my company's social handle is @redandcoagency. It's on Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff, and then just start a website. So redandco.com.
Jessica Williams 25:55
Awesome, and we will put those links in the show notes. Thank you again, Mira. What a great conversation. Keep up the amazing work and we look forward to continuing to follow your journey.
Mira Kaddoura 26:05
Thank you so much for having me.
Jessica Williams 26:07
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