Story by Francesca Andre
Gabrielle Simpson is a branding, communications and media expert who currently serves as the director of Communications and PR at integrated marketing communication company, Foote, Cone, and Belding. Prior to joining FCB, Simpson was the director of Communications at NBC Universal where she oversaw the development of internal and external communications plans in support of the corporation’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
She teaches graduate marketing and communications at New York University and serves as a career mentor, alumni board member and advisory member of the sports, entertainment and media innovation at Iona college, her alma mater. To learn more about Ms. Simpson, please check out the interview below.
You are the Global Director of Communications and Public Relations at FCB Global – Tell us a little bit about the journey that led you there?
I am honored to be at FCB Global, where we believe the best part of a brand’s story is “Never Finished.” I love that on a daily basis, all members of the company are asking what can we do better, what’s next, what’s out there, as well as what’s waiting to be discovered. In today’s age, it’s all about a brand’s never finished story and that’s the heart of our company. My entire career has led me to this great agency. My current role allows me to uniquely work across the globe on work that makes a true difference in people’s lives, impacts emotions, and influences thought.
Did you have mentors that guided you throughout your career?
I have had superb mentors throughout my career and can remember my mentors all the way back to high school in the year 2000. It is imperative to find various examples of success. They don’t have to look or even sound like you, but they should be brutally honest and most importantly genuinely want to see you grow. One of my mentors, Martin “Marty” Daly, Senior Vice, President and Director CBS News and Late Night Sales, CBS Television Network referred me for my first role at CBS. He too is an Iona College Alum. His referral started my corporate career, and to this day, I strive to make him proud. Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, Executive Vice President, Entertainment Diversity, Inclusion & Communications at CBS Entertainment, is my mentor whom I text and call whenever I get a chance. She always holds me accountable and even gives me homework. Upon arrival at FCB, I was presented with an assigned mentor, Brooke Miller, VP of Global Development.We both have extensively studied film and have that bond and interest in common. That’s one key to a successful mentorship relationship, you should have a few things in common. I am proud that FCB sees the true need for employee mentorship from day one. It’s incredibly commendable. I’ve never had an assigned mentor in any of my previous positions. One of the reasons why I joined FCB was because of the impeccable reputation of my boss, Brandon Cooke, our Global Chief Communications Officer. He’s been teaching and mentoring me already, and I am excited to see what each day brings. He’s brilliant! There are two women of color at FCB who have already been a blessing to me, Vita Harris, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, as well as Cynthia Augustine, our Executive Vice President and Global Chief Talent Officer. They’ve welcome me with open arms, and it’s empowering to see two dynamic, powerful women leading the charge in their respective areas of business.
Are you mentoring any women of color?
Due to my graduate teaching role at NYU, I come in contact with many incredible individuals who aim to work in my current field. Their drive and passion is so inspiring that I enjoy guiding them, as well as personally sharing my knowledge and pathway with them. Many of my former students are now my mentees.
You said on your blog, that storytelling is what wakes you up in the morning — what’s your take on the lack of diversity in film, television, marketing and advertising?
I truly believe that I have the “gift of gab” and that my parents named me appropriately with the name of Gabrielle. I am a storyteller. I’ve been telling stories my entire life and that trait is responsible for where I am today. I realized early on what my natural strong point was and that I was destined to be a storyteller. I wake up everyday and am ready to be my authentic self and tell new stories, ones that have never been told before. I love the fact that there’s currently a lot of conversation about the lack of diversity in film, television, marketing and advertising. It’s crucial to recognize that diversity is far greater than race, and diversity represents any underserved group including but not limited to our soldiers and those with disabilities. Many have a misconception and think diversity specifically deals with race. If we think about the majority of the shows we watch, they may be quite similar with familiar faces and storylines, and that’s exclusive — the complete opposite of what diversity and inclusion strives to accomplish. Today I watched two of my absolute favorite shows on TV right now, “Power” on STARZ brought to you by writer and producer Courtney Kemp, as well as “Queen Sugar” on OWN, a show that’s directed entirely by women and also stars some diverse talent who are actually from Louisiana where the show is filmed. I actually read a great piece on how “Queen Sugar” gave several female directors their first TV job, and that’s magnificent. These celebratory stories need to be told and heard more. It’s important to remember that OWN stands for The Oprah Winfrey Network, brought to you by my idol, a black woman who overcame tremendous adversities in her life to be perhaps the most influential woman in her field. Speaking of celebrating and having pertinent conversations about diversity and inclusion, I am very proud of FCB Global for recently partnering with the I.D.E.A. Initiative (I.D.E.A.), during the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity to hold #CreativityInColor, a social media movement to identify and celebrate people of color in marketing and advertising. The recent movement in particular launched to celebrate those attending the illustrious 64th annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the global home of creativity, but now serves as a hub to identify great talent of color in our industry.
Do you have any advice for young black women who aspire to pursue a career in media, entertainment, marketing or advertising?
My advice would be to always be a student of the game and to never stop learning. Growth must be continuous for success. I encourage my mentees, as well as my graduate students to volunteer often, raise their hands, and ask questions to receive life-changing answers. It’s important to take advantage of every good opportunity that comes your way, and it is just as vital to study and know the field you want to go into including recent news and trends, top players, history and traditions.
What are the contributing factors that shape your success?
I have been blessed to really enjoy what I do. I often meet individuals who are looking to transition into a field that they’re passionate about and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in my dream industry my entire career. That has definitely made a difference for me — knowing very early on in my life what I wanted to do, and sticking to a specific niche. I’ve also worked at leading organizations that are are the forefront of their industry. I landed an internship at ABC in New York during my final semester of undergrad based on the fact that I had an enormous amount of volunteer experience while in college. Many neglect how much work or industry experience you can obtain as a college student. While in college, I had leadership positions at the radio station, in the admissions and athletics departments, and was President of Iona College’s Television Station. I knew how to write for television, edit video and produce. These were skills that I learned in class and perfected daily on campus in volunteer capacities. My resume communicated what I could do — every single skill. I listed some successful class projects as jobs on my resume as well. That’s something that I tell my students to do too. When they think they don’t have enough work experience to build a strong resume, I remind them that they attend college, especially graduate school to gain work experience. I always encourage students to list their classwork appropriately. I was blessed to be asked to stay on after my internship as a production assistant, which enabled me to have ABC on my resume. This made me more attractive to its competitor, CBS Corporation, where my mentor was a senior executive. I then moved to NBCUniversal, again, a well-respected competitor, staying in my passion field of media and entertainment. Additionally, when I earned my masters in 2009, I immediately started guest lecturing at Iona College and then became an adjunct professor at St. John’s University. I recognize the impact that mentors have had on my personal life and career. I love that in my present role at FCB, I work with an remarkable dynamic team, whom I can mentor and teach. Throughout my career, I have worked for remarkable bosses who I learn from. I know now more than ever how important it is to have a smart and great boss. One reason why I joined FCB, is because of the incredible vision of Brandon Cooke, our Chief Communications Officer. I admire him tremendously and he’s brilliant. It’s so very important not to be complacent. I continuously look for opportunities to grow and chances to gain new skills, rather it’s writing for HuffPost or shadowing an executive, I take it all in.
Faith! What role does faith play in your life and career?
I have worked very hard to be successful in my career, but I must recognize where my strength comes from, and that’s God. My faith in the Lord is my guiding force. When days are long or difficult, I will stop immediately and pray or even just have a conversation with God. I don’t have to get on my knees or even close my eyes, it may be through subtle meditation and is always unknown to others, but I speak to God probably 20 times a day. This personally helps my faith to be so strong. I ask, seek, and always find numerous reasons to be faithful all day long. When you’re operating in your purpose, God will always make a way. That I know for sure. I can go on and on about having faith, as it’s truly my guiding force in everything that I do.
One word that describes your style!
Photos by Francesca Andre
Makeup by Melisa Martin