[00:00:00] Jackie Ferguson: Thanks for tuning in to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. My guest today is Sadira Furlow. Sadira is CMO of Happy Money an online lending platform that offers credit card debt consolidation loans for consumers looking to restructure finances to reach their goals. With agency experience leading consumer engagement for Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Miller Cores.
[00:00:23] In a former role at PepsiCo, Sadira has been recognized for our ability to transform the way brands connect with consumers. While at PepsiCo Sadira revitalized multiple iconic brands. Broke the internet with the Puppy Monkey Baby Super Bowl commercial, I remember that one. Oversaw multi-billion-dollar Frito lay brands and led the highly successful launch of Lifewater.
[00:00:48] Among other accolades, Sadira has been named a brand genius by Ad Week, one of Ad Age's, women to watch, and one of Savoy's top influential women [00:01:00] in corporate America. Sadira, welcome to the show.
[00:01:03] Sadira Furlow: Thank you. Hey Jackie. I'm so excited to be here with you today.
[00:01:08] Jackie Ferguson: Me too. I'm so excited about this conversation. I have so many questions. All right.
[00:01:13] Jackie Ferguson: I’ll condense it to the time we have allotted right.
[00:01:16] Sadira Furlow: We'll do our best. We'll do our best. No promises.
[00:01:20] Jackie Ferguson: So Sadira, the first question that I always ask my guests is tell me a little bit about yourself, your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
[00:01:29] Sadira Furlow: Yeah, so I am originally from Chicago, Illinois, go Bulls and Bears. currently residing in L.A. But I grew up in Chicago to two very lovely parents. I'm the only child, but I don't have any of those, only child tendencies. very giving and into sharing. And I spend most of my childhood there. And, you can't see me, but very, very light skinned.
[00:01:56] And that's because I am biracial, half [00:02:00] black, half white, but both of my parents are black. And uniquely about that is I was adopted. And so, I think there's the, being biracial, both of my parents are black. I grew up in this very liberal, diverse part of Chicago, but a lot of my experiences were, I'd say, predominantly non-diverse just by the lifestyle or the schools I went to or the sports I participated in.
[00:02:28] So that's definitely shaped a lot of things about me and I'd say my lens on the world.
[00:02:34] Jackie Ferguson: Thank you for sharing that.
[00:02:36] And you know, it's interesting, Chicago, I'd love to dig into a little bit more about that in your background. And tell me some of the experiences that you had in, you know, navigating the world as a biracial person, black parents, and what were some of those experiences like for you?
[00:02:55] Sadira Furlow: Yeah. And you say, I mean, I was born in 1979. [00:03:00] so growing up during that time, definitely biracial, but right, not dissimilar to now you look at me and say, oh, that's a black female. And so, I think before there were words and language growing up during that time, it wasn't a conversation around being the first or the only, or you know really, I'd say an embracing way of like standing out.
[00:03:24] And so there is definitely, I'd say a lot of those, I'd say hyperawareness and then no awareness of being who I was looking, how I was navigating situations. And so, in sports, I played competitive softball since I was eight years old on a traveling team. And in a lot of the sports, particularly softball, I was the only, like young girl of color.
[00:03:51] So not even just black, but like young girl of color in playing that sport, and so I was hyper aware of it, but I didn't know, it was something that was [00:04:00] different, if that makes sense, it wasn't like I was treated differently by the team. But then when I go to, you know, high school in other areas, you become a bit more of like a young adult and you start to get into like the social community and socializing and identity and this craving for belonging.
[00:04:21] Sadira Furlow: I think that's where I really started to have, I'd say like challenges of alright, well, I'm just, I'm gonna be this person that marches to my own beat. My dad has this saying of, you know, what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular. And so, I think those experiences of like, I guess I'm just not gonna be the popular person cause I feel very comfortable on my skin.
[00:04:46] But what popular looked like, it looked one way and it wasn't necessarily a diverse way, that popularity looked. And so, I think those are very, core memories of where [00:05:00] you make choices on, am I gonna go out into the world and I'm going to live and breathe in my own skin and I'm gonna be okay with that and I see that as a source of strength. Or, am I gonna go out into the world and that difference?
[00:05:14] And I'm gonna do everything that I can to try to blend in so that I can fit in and have that sense of belonging, because I don't wanna stand out.
[00:05:24] Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Let's, we're gonna talk about being one of a few, or one of the, the only right, a little bit later, in the questions, but I wanna talk a little about your early career. What did you think you'd be doing now? Right? And then how did you get to your role at Happy Money?
[00:05:45] Sadira Furlow: I love that question. I feel like that's the big getcha, gotcha, question because I'm sure if you asked a lot of folks of what you thought you'd be doing and then where you're at, it's so different, but it also makes so [00:06:00] much sense. and I'll, I'll share my background of, I was dead set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
[00:06:08] Like I just knew that, and this was in high school, that I thought that I was gonna go be this amazing doctor. And for me, that started with, I, as I said, I played competitive softball when I was 15 years old, I tore my ACL, worst thing you could possibly imagine. And I had this experience of visiting two different types of, doctors.
[00:06:31] And one doctor was like, we're gonna go in, we're gonna take the ACL out and we're gonna go do this and put it back together. And I was like, what? And then the other doctor spent the first 30 minutes, Jackie, just talking to me about, how's the season, tell me about your position, what do you love about it?
[00:06:50] And then we got to the end and he's like, all right, Sadira, we're gonna help you get back out on the field. And it was like for me, that moment of treating the problem versus [00:07:00] the patient.
[00:07:01] And I was like, he gets it. I wanna do that. I wanna help people get back out onto their field. And so that's what I took with me.
[00:07:09] I went to the University of Virginia. I walked onto that softball team, like many college students that are impressionable. I took a variety of classes and I was like, oh wow, this is an exciting world out there. And so, I didn't finish my, prerequisites and I was like, I'll do that after I graduate, I'll do a post baccalaureate program.
[00:07:33] And so I needed a job, right? Cause there's no way I was gonna go graduate, not have a job, and then figure out how to go to med school. And so my bright idea was I got into advertising as this, in the meantime, between time, job, while I was gonna go pursue becoming an orthopedic surgeon. And that for me was probably one of those first light bulb moments of, well, this looks a little bit [00:08:00] different than I imagine.
[00:08:02] And it was this unleashing for me of the power and potential of creativity to change behavior, like the power of ideas behind brands and like, oh, there really is a science, there's an art to all these different amazing brands that I'm familiar with that goes into it. And so, I ended up pausing the medicine thing.
[00:08:27] And it would be the, you know, the thing kind of lingering in the background of like, do you still wanna be a doctor, do you still wanna be a doctor. But I love creativity. And so, then I spent the next, I'd say, good chunk of my career within the agency world tackling these incredibly exciting, very human problems, particularly within diversity.
[00:08:51] Because a lot of the agencies that I spent time with, Jackie, they were looking to connect with the diverse audiences. And this is not in [00:09:00] the time where diversity was, I'd say, culturally cool. It was, you know what I mean? It was the time when there's like, there's a general market agency and then you have your black agency, your agency for your Asian American audience.
[00:09:15] So you had a specialty agency for all the other non-general market agencies.
[00:09:22] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:09:23] Sadira Furlow: And I'll tell you some few lessons, very eye opening. And I shared this with you when we, you know, initially connected. Was I was working at an agency for several, you know, clients, we were the agency of record for the African American audience.
[00:09:39] And so our primary role is helping these brands and businesses figure out how to connect their brands with this audience. And a big part of that was having to convince, folks in the room that this is an audience that mattered.
[00:09:57] Jackie Ferguson: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:58] Sadira Furlow: And I’m like, just that this sit, so you've hired [00:10:00] us to go do this job because you're saying this is an important audience.
[00:10:05] And then every step of the way it is prove to me, prove to me, how do I know you're not just saying this because you look like you represent this audience. And so now there's this dissonance of the lack of belief and maybe value, which starts to feel very personal because now I'm not just advocating for this audience over here.
[00:10:30] I feel like I'm advocating for my value, my work, talk to me. And you're saying it's not good enough. Do you have enough data? Prove it to me. That was like, definitely eye opening when you experience that of, what do you do with that?
[00:10:49] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah, and I think Sadira, that's something that so many of us women, especially culturally diverse women experience, it's the you know, you're [00:11:00] given roles and opportunities based on what you've already done, your, the credibility that you've established through experience, not the cred credibility that you're given based on what you could do or what the assumption is that you could accomplish.
[00:11:16] Right? And, and that's one of the things that people often don't understand about how we navigate the workplace, and it's so important. You know, and another thing, I, I love that you said general market, right? Because that has changed, right? The general market used to look very different, didn't look like us, right?
[00:11:39] Sadira Furlow: No, not at all. It wasn't like, hey, culture is cool.
[00:11:44] Jackie Ferguson: That's right, absolutely. And now I think what companies are starting to embrace and marketing agencies and organizations especially is wow, in order to continue to reach our [00:12:00] markets, right... who our market is has changed and is continuing to change. The, the cultures are changing, the ages are changing, the behaviors are changing, and we have to know what that is.
[00:12:11] And so, that's so important, I, I think that's such an important point.
[00:12:17] Sadira Furlow: Yeah, I think that, you know, when I think about that, there's been this, you know, seismic shift, I'd say, even when I was saying about my experience. It wasn't when I came into the working world that it was like, hey, Sadira, bring all of your authenticity. We want you to show up exactly as yourself, no. The message was more of like, how are you gonna assimilate?
[00:12:38] How are you gonna fit in? And it wasn't about standing out. And it wasn't about, hey, there is value in your authenticity and your diversity. It was more of we want this common same culture, and so you did everything you could to fit into it. And now we look at it, [00:13:00] the cost is too high to not have diversity at the center.
[00:13:04] Things need to be diverse by design. It can't be an afterthought. It can't be, as you say, like just checking the box. You will not win in the short term, and you definitely won't win in the long term.
[00:13:16] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:13:19] Sadira, let's talk about your role at Happy Money. What does your role encompass as the CMO?
[00:13:26] Sadira Furlow: Yeah, so I have had the good fortune of being the CMO at Happy Money for two years. It was a huge leap for me two years ago when I left PepsiCo in a very familiar world of, I'd say consumer products into the very uncertain world of financial technology. But I'm really proud that I took that, I'd say that bet on myself and did something very uncomfortable and leaned in to really grow and experience something very [00:14:00] different, to be a part of a different type of change, a different type of mission.
[00:14:03] And so Happy Money, as you shared, is a financial technology platform. That takes a people first approach to lending. And we do that in partnership with mission aligned credit unions and other financial partners. And so that was a mission that I got really excited about serving. Cause I do look at missions as things you serve, not just a thing that you say that you do.
[00:14:27] And in serving that mission in the past two years, I was able to build an end to end multidisciplinary marketing organization. When I joined, it was, strictly performance marketing with some brand, and today it encompasses everything from growth marketing, brand, b2b, social, content, coms, marketing analytics.
[00:14:53] We are such a powerhouse of an organization. And I think that's important because marketing [00:15:00] is at the forefront of driving growth, particularly within our category where it is a very commoditized category and you need to find ways to differentiate, differentiate your business, to stand out and to win the trust and earn the, the purchase or decision from the consumer as well as from our partners.
[00:15:23] Jackie Ferguson: Yes, absolutely. And Saira, Happy Money talks about changing the lending industry for good. Can we discuss some of the systemic issues with lending historically? And then how does Happy Money help borrowers use money better?
[00:15:40] Sadira Furlow: Yeah, it's really interesting when I came into the category and just as a part of, I say personal experience, but the onboarding so that I could, you know, really understand the category and what were the jobs to be done.
[00:15:54] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.
[00:15:55] Sadira Furlow: Overall trust as a value is something that's really important for [00:16:00] consumers when they are deciding what to do with their dollars.
[00:16:03] it is even more important and paramount within the world of finance. If you think about that. historically, the category has a murky reputation. It's not a category where, we've always done or taken the best interest of consumers to heart. And so, it was really important to me as I align myself at Happy Money.
[00:16:29] We put the consumer's interests at the heart of everything that we do, and we do that in a couple ways, first, it's with our partners. I mentioned that we work with credit unions and credit unions are historically known for caring and investing and giving back to communities. We also know that communities and how they are by design, they tend to have lower rates that they're able to pass on to their consumers.
[00:16:56] And in working with them, we're able to pass on that value [00:17:00] to consumers as well. The second way, we serve those interests, I'd say is our underwriting. And we take a very, people first holistic look at understanding someone to then determine their credit worthiness.
[00:17:15] And so that's looking at things of like their past lending or borrowing history, or we look at their cash flow. So, we understand Jackie, if you're having, changing jobs and you just got that new promotion, your ability to take on a different type of loan, you're gonna be in a better position, you know, with this new promotion than you were before.
[00:17:37] And that's an important piece of understanding you. The third way that we really take interest is, our brand experience. And if you spent time looking at our brand, it feels very approachable, it's very vibrant. I mean, in our name, we are Happy Money. And by the nature of how we've designed ourself, the tone, the language, the [00:18:00] transparency, our member advocates that care, it's really a differentiated human first or at the center approach to really caring for helping people navigate this journey.
[00:18:13] So our partners are underwriting, and then our brand experience really helps us to serve consumers needs in the right way.
[00:18:21] Jackie Ferguson: That's really fantastic. You know, Sadira, when people think about lending or banking, it can be intimidating and feeling like you have an advocate that's gonna, kind of, sift through all of the options, all of the the things, right? And in the checklist of, of lending that we often see or think about, to really understand who you are as an individual. And you know, what your abilities are based on your personal trajectory, rather than looking at this checklist right [00:19:00] of, of items.
[00:19:01] I think is really refreshing and interesting and and needed. And when you talk about trust, right? It's so important, more so than it ever has been before because these younger generations, millennials, and, and Gen Z particularly want to work with organizations, or work at organizations that align with their values and see them as individuals. So, I love that Happy Money is doing that in, in a lane, that's scary for most of us, right?
[00:19:33] Sadira Furlow: A hundred percent. And I have to give a huge testament to that of like who Happy Money attracts and our employee base, they are the heart of our mission. And I think that is what you feel in our care is it starts with each person around the table on the frontline and their beliefs, their commitment to doing the right thing.
[00:19:54] Their commitment, commitment to wanting to be of service. Their commitment to wanting people to have a [00:20:00] very different positive experience and navigating something that historically tends to be filled with a lot of different types of emotions and is scary and can be filled with a lot of shame or uncertainty or lack of information. And to be able to have a place and say, hey, we're on your side.
[00:20:20] We wanna help you navigate this, and we also want you to work with Happy Money in a way that leaves you better off, then if you had not been here. And I think that's really important because when we talk about our, our mission of accessible and affordable financial products and services, the affordable piece comes back to you.
[00:20:41] Sadira Furlow: And so, if someone comes to us and they say, hey, I've got $50,000 in high interest credit card debt that I want to, I wanna resolve, and we take a look at you holistically. So, not just what your FICO score might say, but also again, your cash flow and these [00:21:00] other attributes. What it might tell us, Jackie, is actually you're better off, if you only take out a $20,000 loan because that is what you can afford in a way that's not going to add additional financial stress.
[00:21:14] So you say you need 50, other folks, they might approach it differently. We're gonna say, in your best interest, 20 is probably the best, that's gonna put you in a better position. And it's not gonna, you know, add any additional stress to you mentally. And so, I think we put that at the center because it's, it's not just, profits and business.
[00:21:34] It is people before profits. And so, we wanna grow our business in a responsible way, and that's what leads to that trust. We've seen that in our ratings and reviews. We've consistently been going up there, and that's a direct reflection of the experience that people are having with us.
[00:21:52] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah, definitely, definitely Sadira. I love seeing you on the team page, just beautiful and [00:22:00] powerful and capable, right? And. And I always look at team pages for organizations when I do podcasts because I, you know, I'm looking for that diversity and, and love seeing you right up there. But many organizations don't have diversity at the top levels of their organization.
[00:22:19] Why is representation so important?
[00:22:23] Sadira Furlow: I, I think it's something that a lot of us. Are doing today. We're looking around and saying, hey, do I see someone like me? Do I see someone with a shared experience? Do I see someone that represents my lifestyle or values? Because we spend so much time giving to the work that we do.
[00:22:45] I think people, it's really dawning on people like the who you are doing it with really matters. And I think the past two years really illuminated that for us of, usually that's an interview question, right, of like, do you wanna be stuck at the airport with this person? [00:23:00] I think now we're like, do you wanna go through a pandemic with this person?
[00:23:05] Do you want to go through social up rise and feel that when you come into the office and you look around the table, that there is compassion, that there is empathy, that there is curiosity about your experience? And so, I think diversity matters. Repre, representation matters because we all wanna feel like we belong, in this culture, in this world, and that it matters. And I think it matters more than it ever has within the world of work and how we work than it has in the past.
[00:23:44] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. I, I totally agree, and I think with the pandemic, our personal and professional, which we were, you know, trained to keep very separate, kind of melded together and, and that hasn't gone [00:24:00] away. Even though many of us are working hybrid or back in the office. You want to bring who you are as an individual to the workplace.
[00:24:08] And so I, I totally agree. It's, it's a shift that we've seen in our society.
[00:24:13] Sadira, why should businesses focus on DEI initiatives? What is the benefit from a marketing standpoint and from a, an overall standpoint?
[00:24:26] Sadira Furlow: I think the focus needs to, for any organization have D, E, and I at the center, because to me what that really is about is creating cultures of belonging. Where it's not just about recruiting people but creating cultures where diversity can thrive. And so, you have to be intentional and think about that and have a strategy, whether you're a startup.
[00:24:52] Or whether you are an enterprise company that's been around. Because what is universal among everyone is we all wanna belong. [00:25:00] We wanna be able to contribute our, not only our gifts and talents, but our voice. And we wanna be a part of creating change in spaces where people can thrive. And I think I mentioned this earlier, without that, you don't have a business strategy.
[00:25:15] Diversity is a business strategy. Let's remove any myth that it has to a hundred percent be altruistic, or it's just the right thing to do, and let's get on board with that. Those are all very true things. It is also a business strategy, and for many of us, we are trying to build businesses that are durable.
[00:25:38] Particularly, if you think about being a marketer, your goal as a marketer is to create connection. Create connection between a person or a group with your brand in business. And you are more than ever connecting with a generation or audience of people that looks very [00:26:00] different than it has in the past. And if you don't understand that, you're gonna get that wrong.
[00:26:05] And if you get that wrong, your business is going to suffer. And if I go bring it back to trust, that takes a long time to repair, rebuild, engender. And so getting it wrong, the cost is too high, so you have to have D and I at the center of it.
[00:26:24] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And that's a perfect segue Sadira into my next question, which is, let's talk about some of the marketing missteps that leading companies have made over the years. Brands like, Dove and Dolce and Gabbana and H&M, PlayStation, and even Pepsi, with Kendall Jenner's commercial have gotten it very wrong right in their ads.
[00:26:47] How do organizations keep from making these mistakes, and taking hits to their brand and their top line?
[00:26:55] Sadira Furlow: It's such a, it's a sensitive topic and area, [00:27:00] and so what I would say is, I would focus less on a standard of perfection. So, I don't think the standard is like, how do we never get it wrong? Because I, I don't think that that is realistic. We are talking about people, we're talking about culture, we're talking about how we tell stories.
[00:27:18] And even the best, most well intended that has all the receipts, and I'd say like a brand like Dove, they have been consistent, they have been committed, they've done it, and yeah, maybe they didn't get it perfect, let's not say they get it wrong, they didn't get it perfect. Okay, but did they learn from that?
[00:27:37] And so I think for me it comes back to brands more. What we're just talking about on D, E and I. Are you being intentional? Are you diverse by design? What does diverse by design look like within your organization? Are you talking and listening to your employee population? That usually is, is such a rich place to start, and [00:28:00] it's such an obvious one.
[00:28:01] But it is one that, I don't know if companies really take advantage of. Or really see it as you have a free internal focus group, an advocate, advocacy group that can help you navigate, these different types of conversation. I think continued testing, I think continuingly partnering with people who are, maybe more of an expert, or a trusted voice within a group is important as well.
[00:28:35] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And you know, that's great advice, Sadira, because one of the, the concerns that I hear a lot is, my organization is very white. How do I bridge the gap until I can bring on more diverse people within the organization, especially for marketing agencies and things like that? It's bringing in the, those external [00:29:00] voices while you're looking to diversify, your internal team, right, and listening to people outside of your organization.
[00:29:09] I think that's such great advice.
[00:29:12] Sadira Furlow: A hundred percent. I just recently shared a couple, piece of advice on the same topic of even looking around. What are you asking permission for that you don't need? There's a lot of, well, I'm waiting or I'm seeking this permission from this person to start a group, to go forward with this idea, or to have a conversation.
[00:29:36] And I think there are some of these areas where, stop seeking permission and just go do. And you don't need to wait for someone to, to tell you because that enter may never come. They may not even be aware. I think continuing to consult external data and using that information to help make a case, or to start a conversation continues [00:30:00] to be important.
[00:30:01] And I mentor a lot of young talent that I say, hey, one of the most invaluable skills that you are gonna build in your career is the ability to persuade and to influence. And so how do you look at these areas that you are passionate about? And if that is
[00:30:17] Sadira Furlow: D,E, and I in diversity, great, how do you hone and look at that as an opportunity to practice your persuasion and influencing skills?
[00:30:28] Because that's really what it is. You are looking to change the perception with a different person who does not see it the way that you see it, that's what we do day in, day out. That also is what we do day in, day out on the marketing side, is shaping perceptions and asking people to see things this way, which might be different than how they currently see it.
[00:30:48] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely Sadira. What is your advice for people who are navigating their roles or industries or companies as only one of a few [00:31:00] or sometimes the only.
[00:31:02] Sadira Furlow: Oh, I always, I think about that, it might be surprising, but I think about that myself. I am on our executive team. I am the only black person. I am the most senior or most, the only female, sorry, most senior, black, female executive in the company. And so, I think sometimes being the only, or one of the few.
[00:31:32] Sadira Furlow: I like to look at that as an opportunity to embrace, then I am the only one who can provide this perspective.
[00:31:41] It's almost like I look at it as a superpower because my onlyness, or that one of a few creates a, a special perspective or a differentiated perspective, that's not gonna come from anywhere else. And what that means is like, I could have a solution and [00:32:00] idea or a watch out that won't be provided by someone else because my walk in life or my experience is very different than those around me.
[00:32:10] And so, I look to choose to embrace what can absolutely feel very lonely, which absolutely can be a lot of hard work, which absolutely can mean having to be the one to reach out and start the conversation. But I choose to look at that as a gift, and an opportunity of, I get to, I get to be the only one, so, I get to create this space, I get to create the legacy, I get to create room for other people, I get to start this conversation, I get to leave a little bit more education and information with someone that they didn't have before me or maybe this conversation. So, I think my advice would be lean into it, embrace it, and recognize what is the differentiated value, [00:33:00] you are able to bring or create because you are the only or one of a few.
[00:33:05] Jackie Ferguson: I love that, that is such great advice. And then Sadira, on the flip side of that, you are a, a senior leader in your organization. How can senior leaders make space for culturally diverse employees that, that don't have those, those right, c titles.
[00:33:26] To be able to get those perspectives and give them room and space and the opportunity to stretch, into, you know, higher levels of management.
[00:33:38] Sadira Furlow: I'll go back to intention, like you have to be intentional about it. I care about diversity and passion about diversity, and a lot of folks would look at me and say, well, obviously. Yes, obviously, but also as a business leader, I am very intentional. I have the conversations with my leadership team and [00:34:00] so it's not something that is a few times a year, I lead with it, diverse by design.
[00:34:06] I implore upon my team from a hiring standpoint with all the hiring managers. I have an expect, they are clear on my expectation that, I want us to have the most diverse, within the company. And here is why, because we are marketers, we need to connect with diverse audiences and people and tell diverse stories.
[00:34:27] We can't do that if we aren't diverse by design ourselves. So, my expectation for people, managers is that you are building a diverse pipeline in Canada Pool to have conversations with. I wanna know how that's tracking and flowing through. I bring in examples from external brands and conversations that are uncomfortable that we talk about.
[00:34:51] Even for me, like I can be a black female, but you know what one of my learnings was Jackie is a good, number of my team [00:35:00] is of Asian descent or Asian American. That's not something that I have had a, a ton of exposure to in terms of the unique experience, within a, a corporate culture. Or even the things that were happening externally in terms of the violence and culturally understanding, how can I approach this conversation. And not assuming, because as a black female I've dealt with things, I can approach it in the same way.
[00:35:27] And so, I also had to get smarter, but I was intentional to recognize. I don't have all the answers here, and I need to do some educating on my own, so I can show up as a good leader for my team in this way. I think continuing to, you know, we say, say it, it's not hard, invite people into the room, invite them into the table.
[00:35:50] I did that just recently where I had an interview with a publication where, you know, I could represent the work of the team. But the particular [00:36:00] topic, there is a woman leading this work and I said, hey, let's get radical tell, can you ask the reporter? Can two of us join? And so, she joined me on the interview.
[00:36:09] And so for me it was not like, oh, that's the right thing to do. It was like, this is a woman leading this work who can speak to it much more eloquently and like, what a gift to be able to represent her work and the work of the team by joining and participating in this interview. And that to me is like examples of how easy it is to make space for other people, just by being aware and being intentional that, that's how you wanna show up for your people.
[00:36:38] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. That's such good insight and you know, on that same topic, and you mentioned mentoring a little bit earlier. Tell me the value for a mentor in mentoring. Right.
[00:36:53] And what are some of the, the things that people should look for in, in finding a [00:37:00] mentor for themselves?
[00:37:01] Sadira Furlow: I am a big, big believer in mentoring, but particularly what I call reverse mentoring. Cause usually like the conversation on mentoring is very senior to very junior. I look at as, we all are trying to learn different things and have gifts and talents to share. Again, that's the beauty of diversity. And so, I look at mentoring, whether it's me looking for someone on my team to mentor me. Or someone is looking for me to mentor them as, what is it that you're seeking to learn and does this person have that as a gift or a strength that they have an ability to pour that out, and to be able to share.
[00:37:43] So like the who matters, right? Cause you don't wanna learn from people like, hmm, that's maybe not something that aligns with with my value, or they're not gonna be a great teacher.
[00:37:52] So, I think that's number one. Number two is, I got advice early on in my career, look around for the people who [00:38:00] seem to take a unique interest in you. The ones that reach out and they're like, hey Jackie, I remember a couple weeks ago you mentioned that you had this big presentation. How did it go? And it's like, that seems like just such an you know, oh, they just asked me how it went, not a big deal.
[00:38:18] But in the day to day of all the things that are going on for someone to recall and to remember that this was something that was special or important to you, and then to follow up and be curious about, is a signal. So, look for the, the signals of curiosity in who you are, your work, how you're doing, because those are people that seem to have taken an interest in you and maybe there's an opportunity to build a bridge there.
[00:38:45] And then number three, I'd say, look for, what is it that you can provide a value to the person you're asking to mentor you? Right? How do you make this more of a value exchange, when you're seeking out a mentor? [00:39:00] Because there isn't a lack of opportunity. There is a finite amount of time. And so I have found the most promising mentoring relationships have been one where they have been a value exchange and that value exchange, Jackie could be as simple as, I am going to make the most of your time. And I am gonna show up prepared with very specific questions, and I am gonna help you to provide that value to me, in a very efficient and effective way that you're making valuable use of time. So, it doesn't always have to be, well, what am I gonna teach them? What am I gonna give them? That could be one angle.
[00:39:38] But it's also how do you create value by making good use of that time?
[00:39:43] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. So Sadira, you know, going into your campaigns, like all the campaigns that you've participated in or led over the years, you know, many of us watch tv, especially during the Super Bowl, right? And they say, I wonder who [00:40:00] came up with that. Right? Or, how did they think of that. Tell me your favorite one or two campaigns, and then how did you come up with that. (laughing)
[00:40:10] Sadira Furlow: Yes. I think you already know Jackie, which one I'm going to say, and, it is one of my favorites, uh. It's also probably one of the ones I'd say I'm most famous for because it's weird, let's just be honest. And that is, (laughing) Mountain Dews Puppy, Monkey Baby, which was our Superbowl campaign in 2016. It broke the internet. Was on the cover of Ad Age, you probably saw this creepy looking, interesting character that was part puppy, part monkey, part baby, and you just can't forget it.
[00:40:50] And that was all by design. And this is the thing, Jackie, you hear my excitement because this was the light bulb moment for me [00:41:00] when I got into advertising after college. And I realized that there is an art and science to creating things like a Puppy Monkey Baby that leave that indelible impression with people.
[00:41:11] The process of process and journey of getting there was, was quite interesting. You know, fun facts of like Super Bowl work and ad meter and all these ways that you can break the internet and you know, be one of the top ads, there is a bit of a formula. So, I'm gonna call it a bit of the science. And we looked back historically at the past 10 years at the time to determine like what work was standing out and that people were getting excited about and was tending to hit on the ad meter.
[00:41:41] And what we saw is ads tended to either have a puppy, a monkey, or a baby in it. This was the time of like Esurance and other brands. And so, we're like, okay, puppies, monkeys, and babies, okay. What do we do with this? We happened to have Mountain Dew [00:42:00] Kickstart was a new innovation that was about three awesome things combined to create it.
[00:42:06] It was Mountain Dew, juice, and caffeine. And so, it's like Dew, juice, and caffeine, puppy, monkey, baby. And it's like three awesome things combined. And it truly is one of those like lightning in the bottle of taking this wonderful product and finding a way to embody that in this really interesting character that doesn't exist out there.
[00:42:31] And then, introduce it to the world on the biggest stage out there. Crazy, right? It's like great idea. Getting it through PepsiCo was definitely, you know, a lot of sweat beads. I had amazing, you know, manager, Greg Lyons, who's still the current chief marketing officer of PepsiCo beverages. And it's really a testament, I think, to his leadership and the culture he created around [00:43:00] knowing the consumer like the back of your hand.
[00:43:03] And that was really what allowed us to engender the support, from the executive team. And that was all the way through Indra, who was the chairwoman at the time of having to present this work. And it was the trust that she had in us as brand leaders of knowing our consumers and knowing this was right for the brand and knowing it was right for them.
[00:43:22] That she gave her blessing of like, I don't necessarily understand it, it looks very odd, but I trust that this is right for the brand. And what I'd also say at the time, we did research and we had a couple other pieces of work we put into there. And research did not say, this is absolutely the one that you should go with.
[00:43:44] So, it was also a, a testament to our conviction and judgment of trusting, that even though the research said something different, we believe there was something special here. Our credibility and... allowed us for that work to get out the [00:44:00] door and to make it out into the real world, and like the world went crazy. And I, I just hadn't experienced anything like that, since to that magnitude, I'd say.
[00:44:11] Jackie Ferguson: What an amazing thing for us to remember that, right. I knew right away when I saw, Puppy Monkey Baby. I remember the commercial... and, and it was like, it's wow. Of all the commercials that we have seen in the past, you know, six years, right. That one... comes to mind right away, so, I mean, that's so amazing... kudos to you and your team for, for creating that.
[00:44:40] Sadira Furlow: Thank you. We had great partners across the board between PepsiCo, BBDO as an agency. It truly was like a labor and a gift of an experience, to have gone through that, and, you know. Fun fact, Puppy Monkey Baby went you know, to be a celebrity in his own right. He showed up after Super [00:45:00] Bowl, court side at NBA All Star.
[00:45:04] And so again, I think, right, yeah, as a person. So, we didn't know what we had and then we saw all of the excitement. And then it was sort of like, okay, how do we keep leveraging that? And I think that's something also special when you work with great people and you have great ideas that they can have longevity and be enduring and durable.
[00:45:27] And that was really a diverse team around the table that came together to put that, put that into the world.
[00:45:34] Jackie Ferguson: That's amazing. Sadira, what is the message that you wanna leave our listeners with today?
[00:45:41] Sadira Furlow: No, I don't wanna leave you listeners. Not yet. I don't wanna leave you. Jackie's making me leave. So (laughing) no. Okay. What, I would leave you with this, I would leave you with protect your magic, trust your dopeness, [00:46:00] that is a mantra that I come back to daily, that has served me for many years. And what it means is there is something magical about each and every one of us.
[00:46:13] That's the thing that's special about diversity. We all have magic within us, and it's very easy in this world to lose sight of that and to dim that magic and dim that light. You have to protect it. The world needs you to be you, doesn't need you to be anyone else. And then trust your dopeness, there is power in that magic. You are dope.
[00:46:36] There are gifts that you have, and while you may have had trials, you also have testimonies to all the things that you've been able to accomplish. And so, don't lose sight when you are going through hard times, or navigating challenging situations, or you are the only voice in there. Be brave, trust your dopeness.
[00:46:56] Trust that that magic you, is [00:47:00] a value and is valuable.
[00:47:03] Jackie Ferguson: Sadira, thank you so much. This has been such a, a fun conversation, an insightful conversation, and I love how you left it. Protect your magic, trust your dopeness.
[00:47:16] Sadira, thank you so much for spending time with us.
[00:47:19] Sadira Furlow: Thank you Jackie. Thank you to all your listeners. Just such a, a gift and fun time for me to be here. I want two more hours.
[00:47:28] Jackie Ferguson: (laughing) I know. I'd love that.
[00:47:30] Sadira Furlow: Oh, thank you.
[00:47:32] Jackie Ferguson: Thank you, Sadira.
Sadira Furlow’s work with brands like Frito Lay, Coca-Cola, Verizon, and MillerCoors (to name a few) and developing iconic campaigns like PepsiCo’s ‘puppymonkeybaby’ Super Bowl commercial resulted in accolades like Adweek’s Brand Genius, AdAge’s Women to Watch, and Savoy’s Top Influential Women in Corporate America. Her recipe for success? Sadira says diverse teams are the best way to create campaigns that break the internet. As the Chief Marketing Officer of Happy Money, she’s spreading the word about their people-first approach to lending with inclusive marketing practices that are approachable and caring. In this episode, Sadira discusses systemic issues in lending, marketing debacles and how to avoid them, and how she found her dopeness and a path forward as the only one in the room.
Listen to this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts.