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The Visionary Behind Female-Led Production Company, Honor Society

Culture
After years of clocking in overtime for advertising industry giants, many people dream of the moment when they can hand in their notice and become their own boss. That was the case with production company Honor Society’s Executive Producer and Managing Partner, Megan Kelly, who recently made the leap to not only launch her own production shop, but took a further leap of faith to do so in the male-dominated industry of advertising.

Megan has over two decades of experience on both the advertising agency and commercial production sides of the business and was an early adopter of digital content. While things may seem to have perfectly aligned for her, it was anything but easy to conquer the “Mad Men” industry and forge her path to entrepreneurism.


Ever since its inception in December 2015, the female-led production company has successfully taken off and produced commercial spots for Chase, Burger King (reuniting Napolean Dynamite stars Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez), Michael’s (ft. Snoop Dogg), State Farm, Honda, SKYY Vodka, and JetBlue, among many others.

Megan Kelly

1. What made you decide to launch your own company?

I realized that I could be doing what I was doing for other people, but for myself. I have always had a very strong point of view and opinions and I knew exactly the type of company that I wanted to create and how to run it. All I needed was a push out of the nest and once I decided to do it, I jumped and haven’t looked back!

2. What was the biggest challenge you had in the first year of launching?

The biggest challenge for me was learning to be patient. I’m a pretty high-strung person with lots of energy and when I have an idea, I want it to happen all at once. It’s been difficult to craft a plan and a vision and wait for it to come together. More so, wait for it to come together correctly. As grateful as I was for the growth and constant activity that we had, it was never enough for me. I want to be at the end of my five-year plan in five months, so I’ve had to learn to have the patience to watch things play out, guide the vision and enjoy the journey. A great piece of advice that I got early on was “you only have your first year once.” Whenever I felt frustrated, I would think about that and repeat it until it became a mantra.

I knew I had an obligation to lay the correct groundwork and build the best brand that I could, so understanding that everything I did in the first year would impact how people portrayed us in the future was a great way to slow down and focus a bit more on the details. I had to realize that five-year plans are given that time frame for a reason.

3. What is the best part about being your own boss?

I have partners and always collaborate with them on business decisions, but the best part for me is getting to create the vision and set the tone. I get to create a culture that I want everyone to live and work by and most importantly, to enjoy.

4. How do you adapt in an industry that is constantly evolving?

Honestly, the media landscape has never not been evolving for me. I got into advertising at a time when budgets were bigger, yes, but there was still a lot of uncertainty. We had the dot com boom and then bust, 9/11, the start of YouTube and social media, the rise of online video, the transition from film to video, the great recession, etc. Now, I feel like every three to six months, it all changes.

I think because it has never been a stable business for me, I’ve become very adaptable. At Honor Society, we are constantly rethinking how we approach projects and how we can make the impossible work. I had a boss once, who when faced with some impossible project, would look at me and say “well, we have to figure this out, because if we don’t someone else will.” That’s the nature of this business, there is always someone who is going to figure out how to do it better, faster, cheaper, etc. So, you can’t dismiss anything. The nerd inside me always wants to be the first one to figure out the puzzle. Embrace the change!

5. What makes a great commercial spot?

Storytelling, of course, but with an element of surprise. I like the unexpected and/or the inventive. That can be either in the storytelling or in the casting. I love a spot where I can tell that someone took a risk. So much of the work being made these days is very safe and I find it refreshing and exciting when a brand is brave enough to take a chance.

BK Commercial Courtesy of Honor Society

6. What is your advice for other women trying to get into commercial production?

Don’t be afraid to start in an entry-level position and work your way up. Learn everything that you can by watching commercial spots, staying updated on industry news and familiarizing yourself with all the work that you can. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to ask to get close to the camera on set. Don’t get stuck being in the office or being a wardrobe production assistant (where entry-level women tend to be). Figure out who’s in the career position you’d want to be in and find a way to work with (or close to) them. Make it known that you want to be a director, a producer or in the camera department. Help the people that can create opportunities for you and be damn good at what you do. Because unfortunately, let’s face it, women need to work harder and be better to get where they want to be.

7. What kinds of things do you try to implement into the morals of your company?

When we started thinking about starting our own production company, we came up with the name Honor Society (which conjures lots of different visions in people’s heads). I was thinking about who we are and the type of people who we want to attract. So I came up with the five pillars of Honor Society: creativity, bravery, passion, intelligence and character.

I would even add a sixth pillar: humor. We apply this lens to our staff, directors and freelancers. We want to work with great people who care deeply about what they do and who treat other people well. I also tend to refer to this as our “no- asshole” policy. I don’t work with disrespectful people.

8. What is your advice to someone thinking about taking the leap to launch their own company?

I would tell them to be prepared to work all the time. I tell people that Honor Society is my third child because running a business is a lot like being a mother. I’m constantly putting the company needs above my own, making sure it has everything it needs to properly grow and develop. It consumes my mind and keeps me up at night.

I think in order to launch your own business, you really have to be prepared to do that. Make sure you have the time and are willing to make those sacrifices in your personal life. You definitely have to be 100 percent invested in what you are doing or you won’t make it through the tough times.

9. What is your advice to other women working in male-dominated industries?

That your mentors and champions do not have to be women. There are plenty of amazing men who really step up into those roles naturally. I am extremely lucky that almost all of my mentors and champions in my career have been men, and I want to call this out because I think so many young women think that they can only be mentored by other women. We also need to encourage more men to mentor women in the workplace.

As a woman, you have to refuse to be intimidated by being the only woman in the room and learn to embrace it. I feel like hard work is valued, but you have to value yourself and know that your opinions matter and that you deserve to be heard. Remember to take yourself seriously and don’t back away from a great opportunity.

10. What was the biggest lesson you learned in the first year of launching Honor Society?

As someone in a leadership position, I have to have confidence in myself to know what's right, while also not being afraid to challenge the established rules and have the balls to follow a vision. Basically, not being afraid to ruffle feathers.

I learned to trust myself, my instincts and my feelings. I have realized that I have strong gut reactions to things, both positive and negative, and I need to trust them. The times, in the past year, when I have gone against my gut instincts have led to less-than-positive outcomes. So I’ve learned to state when I don’t feel good about something and persuade other people to listen to me, but also not demotivate people. On the flip side, convincing people that some crazy idea is really what we need and getting the team to trust you.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.