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Leo Burnett's Ashley Geisheker on how she pays it forward

The Executive Vice President and Head of Integrated Production shares her leadership journey

Illustration by Alysa Browne

Ashley Geisheker started her career by studying creative writing at a portfolio school, and later worked as an Account Executive. These diverse experiences led her to find her true passion — production. 

“I think being able to be an account person, but also having gone to portfolio school and getting a creative writing major, production was the perfect mix of both and really spoke to my skill sets which I loved,” says Geisheker.

After officially starting a career in production, Geisheker quickly climbed the ranks, with a lot of support from her Head of Production and Chief Creative Officer at A&R Chicago, who helped her acquire new skills and facilitated her transition into leadership positions herself.  

Geisheker worked on Leo Burnett’s The Lost Class for Change the Ref, which tricked a member of the NRA into giving a speech to an empty ‘lost class’, for which her team made waves in the American gun debate. Here, the Back Pencil winning creative talks about how she navigates sensitive issues and helps her team succeed.

Take what helped you progress and pass that onto others

As Head of Integrated Production, Geisheker has to make sure everyone involved in the production process is being heard in order for her team to bring creative work to life in the best possible way. 

“You have to be the champion for the production company, for the client, for your creative team and just get everyone to focus and work together to make everything as productive as possible,” she says.

Having had great leaders mentor her while she was progressing through the industry, Geisheker also strongly believes in mentorship and helping others climb the ladder. Solid mentorship in a workplace that felt like a community helped her thrive and she passes this on to those she leads today.

Break the rules to be a better leader

“Creative leadership is not the same as leading in other aspects of business. You are much more involved,” says Geisheker, “and you need to be able to break rules, take the reins and guide your team when it is important to do so.” She cites her multi-Pencil winning work The Lost Class for Change the Ref, which turned pro-gun advocates into anti-gun spokespeople, as an example where she really pushed the boundaries of the work she and her team were doing.

“Without being kind of bullish in approaching things within leadership, you won't be able to make the type of change that I think we all want to make in advertising, whether that be for good, promoting a great product, or helping a business,” she explains. “I think that that is kind of the most exciting part about creative leadership, and I've been lucky enough to have people who let me break rules. My being able to kind of instil that fearlessness in my team, is something I'm really proud of.”

Stay in the know

From new media and technology to the trends that govern the advertising industry, things have never been as fast paced as they are today and to lead effectively you have to know where you are headed. 

“I want to make sure that I am an advocate for my team," says Geisheker. “If they have questions as things are changing, I want to know I can be a source of answers for them, if they need any sort of guidance or growth. It's exciting but it is moving at a pace that is so fast that we as leaders need to constantly just be on that cusp of knowing everything that's coming and how to navigate new worlds and new mediums and everything – it's constant!”

Handle lobbying causes with passion but care

Working on The Lost Class, Geisheker knew that she wanted to put everything into promoting Change the Ref and her desire to do the best for her client was the North Star for this project. 

“I think being able to have the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves because they had tragic deaths and we could do something to use our voice and our power and our creative ingenuity to be able to push that forward,” she said. “ It wasn't just a “gotcha” type of campaign, that wasn't the point, it was really for us to hold a mirror up to the NRA, so they understood the impact of their decisions and their lobbying. I think when you approach work like that as long as you have the vision of why you're doing this and you're doing it for the right reasons, I think it's great to go ahead.”

You need to be in the work, not just supervising

For Geisheker creative leadership is impossible without having an understanding of what is going on with your team and no matter the size of the project she is working on she always stays cognisant of what is happening on the ground. 

“I always say advertising is a team sport and you need to lead but you also need to be in the work because if you're leading and you're not in the work, you're going to be disconnected on what's really happening and that's not going to benefit anyone,” she explained. “I think it's absolutely critical, because you need to stay sharp with what's happening, and you need to evolve with the process.”

This is part of D&AD's Creative Leader Interview series. Read more insights from top creative leaders here

Amah-Rose Abrams 

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