Always Ask for More: Director Camila Zapiola’s Advice for Women in Media and Advertising

By Peter Nicholson, Chief Creative Officer, Hill Holliday

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Camila Zapiola, one of the world’s leading comedy directors about how she blazed a career path in a notoriously male-dominated field.

The Argentine native has directed spots for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, from MassMutual to McDonalds. She’s earned accolades from global awards and built a reputation for edgy, surprising and darkly humorous content.

Camila has bucked trends by casting strong women in leadership roles, even as the industry continues to stereotype females as homemakers. Her trendsetting doesn’t stop there–she’s among a rare breed of women making it to the top (81% of commercial directors are men, a statistic that has barely budged in the past decade).

Here are three takeaways from my conversation with Zapiola.

1. Keep moving forward regardless of pushback

Camila says the key to success is to keep pushing for what you want. “People will try to stop you; people will try to discourage you,” but she says, ignore the naysayers and keep moving forward.

Camila has always followed that strategy. The daughter of a well-known Argentine commercial director, she was immersed in the craft from her earliest days. She moved from childhood acting to follow her passion for directing, earning a degree in filmmaking in Buenos Aires.

She came to New York to study at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, grounding herself in the art of casting and directing talent. Building a solid foundation helped her compete in the global commercial directing arena; She has since landed projects around the world and is signed to multiple production houses including Stink Films and Bold.

Her message to her female cohorts is clear: “Don’t doubt yourself. Always say ‘Yes, I can do this.’”

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about equity

While women have made progress, the wage gap remains. Women directors earn 94 cents on the dollar compared with men. Camila says that’s all the more reason to demand equal pay for every job. “Always ask for more money,” she says. “People will always try to pay you less.”

Of course, the best way to prove your worth is to be good at your craft. And Camila has the awards to prove her mettle. She’s earned recognition from the Clios, One Show and Cannes. But you don’t have to win awards to be treated fairly. Camila encourages women at every level to ask how much peers in the position earn.

Camila recognizes the promising gains made for women in media, comedy and advertising, but warns there are no free rides. “You will find yourself competing against guys who are double your age and have double your experience. It is going to be tough, but you have to keep going.”

3. Bring your own point of view to your work

Recent studies have shown that sexism remains alive and well in advertising. Women in ads are rarely portrayed in leadership positions, and female advertising execs are often relegated to working on brands targeted to women, like household cleaners and feminine hygiene products.

Camila likes to cast strong women when she’s producing spots for her clients. Her work includes women and men of all ages and backgrounds in a variety of roles. “As a comedy director, I really enjoy bringing perspective into what makes a woman like myself laugh.”

A spot for Britain’s Tesco Mobile features a female shopper electrified (literally) by a great deal for cell phone service.  Another comedic spot she directed with her father Augusto Zapiola for the Economics Journal from Clarin, featured a couple in bed. The phone buzzes and the husband swears it’s a text from his mistress, but his wife is more worried that he’s maxed out their credit card. The tagline: “Money is the number one cause of divorce. Yes. Above infidelity.”

Camila brings to the table her point of view about what it means to be a woman. She likes to build characters with a lot of personality. “That’s my style of directing.” She chooses “strong females … because [that’s] real, and that’s funny, and that’s important for me.”

The bottom line: Keep pushing to move to the next level–don’t listen to those who would limit your efforts and be sure to bring your own point of view to your work. Don’t be afraid to buck the trends, open doors and embrace opportunities to elevate trailblazers.

About the Author

Peter Nicholson is the Chief Creative Officer of Hill Holiday, where 53% of employees are female, including the CEO and Chair.

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