Amy Winger, Chief Strategy Officer, VMLY&R
If you asked Amy Winger if she’d ever envisioned herself as the Chief Strategy Officer of the industry’s hottest supergroup (that’s VMLY&R for those who’ve spent the last year under a rock), she would probably say something to effect of “Hell, no.” Partly out of humility, partly because it’s true.
For her, advertising wasn’t in the plan, just something she fell into…and then straight upward. Sometimes the industry pursues talent till it relents.
In addition to being a bang-up strategist, she also could have been a writer—you’ll see why in her HIGH7.
(Full Disclosure: I once had the great fortune of working for her. She remains a reliable text buddy and my co-general in the crusade against “words and phrases posing as art.” Our sincerest apologies to anyone who embraces this aesthetic. Kind of.)
As a child, what was your dream job?
An actor, no question. My mom was a high school drama coach so I grew up going to play rehearsals and reading plays, and I acted until I went to college and thought I needed a more serious major.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I worked at my town’s Dairy Queen. In addition to making ice cream cones I had to clean chicken parts in the cooler, which has made me deeply ambivalent about chicken. I learned that terrible managers can ruin any job. They even have the ability to make a job that’s about making fucking ice cream cones unbearable.
The thing that made you excited about the industry on day one and stillkeeps you excited today is:
I intended to go to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and instead I moved to NYC and got a job in book publishing. So advertising specifically was a happy accident. All I really knew about it I learned from Amanda Woodward on Melrose Place. The moment I stepped into VML in 1999 though I knew I was home. I loved the entrepreneurial drive and the freedom to invent. That’s the magic combo I still love.
How would you explain what you do every day to a child?
During circle time my friends and I tell each other stories and then we make ideas and do math. During recess some of the kids cry. I break up fights.
Describe a key pivot or defining moment in your career that ultimately landed you where you are?
Almost 10 years ago I was part of a WPP training program for executive women that was really more like a year-long clarity bootcamp. If a teachable moment was at hand you’d get a blue card. My blue card, said, basically, “Do you know what you want?” The long story short is that I got clear on what I wanted. I still have the blue card.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found yourself doing for work?
Every team-building event ever? Reference: Indoor rockclimbing, wilderness adventure day camp, an Eagles concert?
Finally, the quality that makes you successful in this business is:
A friend told me I’m incisive. I thought it was a typo so I looked it up. It is a word, and I agree with her. I’m still learning to appreciate the fine art of consensus thinking. Also, people tell me I’m very calm in the face of complete chaos, which is important in advertising.