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.
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.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.