A Grateful Goodbye and a Look Ahead

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Allison Arden
Allison Arden Credit: Nathan Skid

Attendees of Ad Age's recent Brand Summit in Chicago were treated to a special training session by Second City, the legendary and progressive comedy troupe known for turning out "Saturday Night Live" stars past and present. The most enlightening exercise asked participants to say "Thank you" at the start of everything they said. Gratefulness, research shows, has been linked to building better relationships and success. It is also the easiest way we all have to show appreciation and the most fitting way I can think of to begin this column.

Thank you.

I joined Advertising Age at just 26 years old, excited to join a brand respected by so many, a little afraid of how I would do and, as it was only my second job out of college, with a firm plan of staying for about two years. As I hand over the publisher reins, it feels fitting that the last issue with my name atop the masthead is our Women to Watch issue; the very first one launched just weeks after I joined the team.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of these awards; so much for my two-year plan. And for the last two decades, as we've showcased role models for future generations of women, I've been watching and learning myself. If these women could do it, maybe I could, too.

Soon after being named publisher at the end of 2007, I convened these brave thinkers and leaders of our industry, in hopes that such groundbreaking women would do more than merely raise their glasses at an awards ceremony but engage in meaningful conversations -- that they could begin to mentor and influence each other. And as we so often create what we need in our own lives, mentor me as well. The publisher role had never been held by someone like me, a young mother of two, leading the media brand for a largely male dominated industry known for big egos and larger-than-life personalities. Once again I found myself looking for role models. In the process, I built a network of amazing colleagues and confidantes I am now privileged to call my friends. Thank you to these women and many more I have met along the way for helping me overcome my fear of leading this brand and embracing my authentic voice.

One of the most profound changes I have felt in the last decade is how much more supportive women have become of each other. I felt it at those gatherings, and I have witnessed it and experienced it in countless ways since. We must continue to stand together, but women can't do it alone.

As the mother of both a son and a daughter, I am hopeful we can create cultures that are welcoming to all, both in the workplace and beyond. As I look back on my experience at Ad Age and in our industry, I am thankful for the men, too. Our industry is filled with many good ones who have encouraged me, challenged me, inspired me and been my friends. I found far fewer big egos and far more big hearts. While we are in the midst of a war on sexism and a fight for gender equality, we must not forget that much of our best work is done together. The fight to eradicate the issues that undoubtedly exist within our companies can be divisive, but we must work together to create cultures that embrace diversity of all kinds.

The changes that inspire me most today are the cultural shifts happening within companies. It's clear that many, many organizations are pursuing a greater sense of purpose and a higher level of creativity. In doing so they are fostering a better bond with their employees and consumers alike.

The cultures set up to win in the future will do three things: 1) inspire and develop their talent; 2) balance that development with their employees' health and well-being; and 3) be as committed to the bottom line as they are to their contribution to society at large.

David Droga is right. Beanbag chairs are not the answer.

Getting to a reimagined vision of cultural excellence in companies will take time, as anything worth doing does. But through open and ongoing dialogue, kindness and, most importantly, focused attention from the highest levels of companies, we can create work environments that are good for business and good for the soul.

This is the culture we have built at Ad Age over the past decade, and the focus of the next phase of my career, helping companies assess the things that matter and creating cultures with soul. From that everything else will flow.

I'm so thankful for the men and women who have, and continue to, dedicate their creativity and talent to this brand. It has been so much fun. Thank you to Rance Crain for entrusting me with Advertising Age, which means so much to him and to his family, and to his late wife, Merrilee, whose wisdom made me a better mother.

And thanks for allowing me to serve you, our readers and partners. As I set off to create what's next, I find myself reflecting on the teachings of G.D. Crain, who launched this brand 86 years ago with passion, resilience and I'm sure just a little bit of fear. His boldness meant that I've had the great honor to be a part of this incredible platform he built so long ago. For that I'll be eternally grateful.

Allison Arden, longtime Ad Age publisher, author and now entrepreneur, begins a new chapter on June 1.

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