Meet Jo Jackson, the first female CEO of D&AD

First time in person after 2019, this year’s edition challenges the creative industry to MAKE.CHANGE

This May, the D&AD festival returned to London for the first time since 2019.

The 2023 event aims to stimulate, challenge, and enable the creative industry to MAKE.CHANGE. ‘Make’ celebrates creative excellence today, uncovering insights and sharing tools to empower us to achieve it. ‘Change’ looks at what’s next debate opportunities and challenges arising from evolving and emerging technologies, pushing the industry forward, standing up for what’s right, and making space for new voices to thrive.

The non-profit organization debuted this year with its first female CEO, Jo Jackson, 20 years experience in building relevant, award-winning brands — such as Diesel, Nike, Adidas, Burberry, Microsoft —, and owner of Flowerhouse, a female-led pub in London’s Chiltren St. to support women in the hospitality industry.

We met her during the first D&AD’s day and here is what she told us about her new experience:

I started as CEO at D&AD six months ago. I’m still getting used to it, but I’m absolutely loving it. It is a non-profit organization, which was one of the things that drew me to the position. After leaving the marketing and branding industry post-Covid, I felt the need to pursue something more fulfilling. Although I wasn’t actively seeking a new career opportunity, D&AD was such an incredible chance. It was an honor to take on a leadership role at a company that I had grown up admiring as a St. Martin’s graduate, when I participated in the D&AD New Blood program.

Our London office has now a team of 45 people who have been tirelessly planning our upcoming festival for almost a year. We have an incredible group of more than 300 judges who have flown in from all over the world, from Brazil to Korea, New Zealand to Mumbai, to judge the work for four days and then attend the festival. The festival featured two days of speakers, including both rising and established brands and progressive thinkers. I made it a priority to invite speakers who would challenge the audience’s preconceived notions about the industry. The festival has been in the works for months, even before I joined the company, and it has been a pleasure to watch everything come together. The team probably didn’t appreciate my last-minute changes to the festival [laughing]. However, I still wanted to push for creative challenges that would make a real impact.

After quitting the creative industry — and before D&AD —, I ventured into the hospitality sector, determined to establish something unique. Amid opening a few bars and restaurants, I seized the opportunity to create a brand with a difference. My experience in branding had shed light on the gender inequality prevalent in the hospitality industry, especially in the UK. This prompted me to provoke conversation and draw attention to the ongoing need for basic gender equality in the sector. I aimed to address women’s safety concerns at night, particularly in London, by creating a safe and comfortable environment where women could enjoy a drink without feeling obligated to engage in unwelcome advances. These reasons led to the creation of the Flowerhouse, which I continue to run alongside my involvement in the creative industry. We opened it approximately 18 months ago. After working in the creative industry for 20 years, I reached a point in my career where I wanted to make a meaningful change. My experiences within D&AD and the hospitality sector allow me to pursue both passions simultaneously, as they both contribute to creating a positive impact. While the hospitality business has commercial aspects, it is driven by a social purpose that aligns with my values.

Jo Jackson, D&AD CEO

One of the things I love the most about D&AD is the “Shift” initiative, which aims to assist underrepresented young creative talent in entering the industry. I strongly believe that access to further education should not be a barrier for aspiring creatives. In the UK, pursuing higher education often results in significant student debt of tens of thousands of pounds, with no guarantee of employment afterward. This financial burden and limited opportunities prevent many talented individuals from pursuing their dreams. Therefore, “Shift” provides a free and fully funded night school, enabling individuals to continue working and fulfilling their responsibilities while acquiring essential skills. The program also offers access to job opportunities, which I am particularly dedicated to developing further during my tenure.

The MAKE.CHANGE theme of our recent event embodies its purpose: to inspire and provoke positive progress within the industry. I wanted attendees to feel empowered, regardless of their position, whether they were junior creatives or seasoned executives. Even small changes have the potential to make a significant difference. The event also emphasizes the importance of craftsmanship and honors the skills of illustrators, photographers, and other artists that cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence.

At the event, my hope was for people to have a memorable experience, be inspired, forge new connections, and engage with initiatives like “Shift.” We actively seek mentors and industry ambassadors willing to offer 30 minutes of their time to review young creators’ portfolios and provide valuable advice. These seemingly small actions can make a life-changing difference to individuals seeking transformative career opportunities. I encourage active participation and giving back, as it embodies the essence of D&AD’s philosophy of “winning one and teaching one.” Celebrating achievements while fostering a virtuous cycle of mentorship and growth is truly rewarding.’

A few days ago D&AD announces the shortlist for this year’s D&AD Awards across all categories, ahead of the Pencil winners being revealed in two ceremonies taking place at the BFI Southbank, London, on 24 and 25 May. International judges shortlisted 1,261 entries, from a record of 12,243, made up of nearly 30,000 individual pieces of work.

Featured image: Jo Jackson in the Flowerhouse pub

Andrea Buzzi, Former Content & Social Media Editor at MediaCat Magazine

Andrea’s experience includes digital publishing, marketing, comms, media relations and editorial, working for companies such as Italian Publishers Association, Gruppo Mondadori and Condé Nast in Italy. She joined MediaCat Magazine at the start of 2023 after her second (and hopefully her last) move to London. In September 2023 she moved on to work for a fashion magazine.

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