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Digital Women: Hannah Johnson, Executive Director, Global Marketing and Partnerships at Blue State

NDA’s Digital Women series is talking to leaders from across our industry to understand the particular challenges, and opportunities faced by women. Today, we hear from Hannah Johnson, Blue State’s Executive Director, Global Marketing and Partnerships.

Johnson is an award-winning Executive Director with over 14 years’ experience in advertising and marketing. She’s helped high profile brands such as Netflix, Heinz, Net-a-Porter, Ben & Jerry’s and Lego to launch globally, and has led award-winning campaigns for Jaguar, Expedia, and Red Bull.

What’s your role at Blue State, and what are you hoping to achieve?

I’m lucky to have been at Blue State for over six years. I started as Group Account Director, became MD of the London office and am now Executive Director for Global Marketing and Partnerships. 

In my current role, my focus is to think beyond the immediate day-to-day and look at the long term; to consider the organisations we want to partner with, the team we’re seeking to build and the positive change we want to make in the world. 

I would love us to continue to partner with values-led brands and charities to help them transform how they engage with their audiences; to raise more money for and awareness of the issues that matter to help create positive societal change.

What are the biggest challenges, and opportunities for women in the digital industry today?

On the challenges side – it is ensuring that women don’t bear the brunt of what should be a new positive flexible working environment. We know that during the pandemic women took on more household and family duties, and we haven’t yet really seen that change back. 

Women are often deprioritising their own needs or careers as a result. When that’s an active choice it should be celebrated, but when that’s a default because no-one else is there to help pick up the slack, it feels like regression.

And with only 1% of men taking up the option of shared parental leave – there is still far more onus on the woman to ‘do it all’. A huge challenge.

It’s heartening to see more women in prolific leadership roles – women now hold 45% of executive positions in marketing, media and tech agencies. But more still needs to be done to ensure women are offered the chance to lead. We need more initiatives to build the right mentorship and role model culture that shows what’s possible. I’m a member of BLOOM (a network for women in the advertising industry) which is a great example of what ‘good’ looks like here.

What does the industry need to do to better champion women?

Giving women at all levels a voice, and the opportunity to talk about the change we need to see is a start.

It feels like there are particular disciplines where the gender gap is still quite large, such as creative and technology. In areas where women are a minority, hearing from leaders and individuals on how others can get started or shift into this career path would be helpful.

International Women’s Day is always filled with wonderful content and initiatives but it is just one day, so more regular opportunities to celebrate inspiring stories of achievement and success would help build confidence and ambition amongst our gender across the sector.

What is your biggest achievement in digital to date?

I often talk about how, in your 20s, your career is very driven by self and, as you enter your 30s and 40s, it becomes more about others and creating the change you want to see.

As I work for a values-led company, I am proud to have worked with a whole host of charities who are doing good in the world – UNICEF, Movember, UNHCR and others. 

When the Ukraine crisis hit back in March, we were able to play a very small role in helping the UN Refugee Agency raise $300m in six weeks to help the 9 million displaced individuals seeking support. It certainly made us feel a little less helpless to be able to be involved in that group effort.

I’ve been in the industry for 14 years now but still hope that I’m just getting started in terms of the work I’d like to be a part of and the ever-evolving landscape that keeps us all on our toes.

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