CJC 40 Gators Under 40

Ashley Andrews

The University of Florida Alumni Association named UF College of Journalism and Communications (CJC) alumna Ashley Andrews as one of its “40 Gators Under 40” for 2024.

Ashley Andrews

Ashley Andrews, B.S. Advertising 2007, found her voice early in her career, starting as a designer and moving into art direction, all leading to her current position as vice president and group creative director at R/GA, a global digital product and marketing company, where she tells stories digitally to connect Nike’s Jordan brand with a diverse audience.

In a “40 Gators Under 40” letter of recommendation, Raqib Sheikh, global executive strategy director at R/GA, said he recruited Andrews from the Wunderman Thompson advertising agency, where the two met in 2020. “Beyond daily excellence in her craft, she embodies a leadership style that is defining the industry of advertising. … She quickly helped rebuild the creative department and revitalized the creative reputation of the Atlanta office through industry involvement and recognition of her work through press and awards.”

Sheikh also wrote that the pride Andrews, 38, puts in her work “is rare and infectious. Ashley’s purpose-driven work has had a significant impact on the industry. She’s pushed boundaries on campaigns and rebrands for some of the largest global beauty, beverage and civic brands that has made those companies rethink and adjust how they communicate with the world.”

Those companies include Amazon, The Coca-Cola Company, Verizon, Delta, and the United States Marine Corps. Among her most notable work includes the ‘No Other Skin’ campaign for Vaseline, debuting an ode to the natural beauty of black and brown skin that aired during primetime television and across social channels, and her digital innovation work in partnership with Sprite Zero and the Black Panther franchise, creating a safe space for urban and black creators to explore lesser-known professional paths.

Regarded as an expert in her field, she frequently speaks on the future of advertising. She’s earned more than 60 industry awards from organizations that include the ADDYs, Webbys and Shortys.

But life is so much more than that for Andrews. She also works hard to introduce the creative field to young students of color. Sonja Stanley, executive vice president at Formerly Known As, a digital marketing agency, wrote in her letter of recommendation that Andrews worked hard to “diversify the creative talent within the company and the industry in her mentor and volunteer efforts. Her detailed craft in design, bravery in vocalizing her ideas, and authentic storytelling fueled Ashley’s success in becoming the only Black, female creative director our agency had at a time when only 3% of all creative directors nationally were females of any race.”

Now, the UF Alumni Association member is mentoring students on “how to break into the industry by using their skills, unique perspectives and background as a positive and not a setback,” Stanley wrote. Her volunteer efforts, often partnering with industry organizations, include:

  • Exposing students at HBCUs to advertising and public relations career paths during a weeklong program that included panel discussions, presentations, workshops and mentoring sessions.
  • Hosting boot camps for students of color, where she guided four to five students as they created a campaign for a client based on a brief. She also edited their resumes and reviewed their portfolios to help them prepare to enter the job market.

What are the main factors that have led to your success?

In advertising, your reputation is the invisible page on your portfolio. So I approach every project with these things intact: my values, my mission and my identity. In other words, I treat my name as a brand and consider working with me to be a brand experience. The most iconic brands are consistent. Not repetitive or lackluster, but consistent. Consistent in how they make you feel and how they make you think and I feel I’ve been successful due to a consistent brand experience I create for my team, clients and partners.

Was there a defining moment that led you down the path you chose?

I would say there are two defining moments in my career: one that propelled me into leadership and the other that allowed me to expand my role beyond design.

I worked for an executive creative director early on in my career who saw the shift in advertising towards social and more robust digital experiences and she put me in a position to lead a new creative practice in our agency. That was critical because it propelled me from senior creative to associate director.

The second defining moment was also propelled from another executive creative director who realized that I had a variety of creative gifts and saw that as a positive. Instead of keeping me in a specific, confined box, he allowed me straddle between design and art direction and even script writing. Working with him gave me opportunities to work on and lead everything from rebrands, 360 campaigns and immersive digital campaigns. It really allowed me to be both a design director and creative director which set me up to be a better creative leader overall.

How did your time at CJC help prepare you for success?

The advertising courses I took prepared me for the business side of the industry. Even as a junior creative, I was very aware of the importance of target audiences and ROI and knew my art needed to hit metrics. The journalism courses I took taught me to question EVERYTHING and craft my words carefully. So even until this day I question metrics, data and creative briefs to ensure there’s truth in the insights that impact the creative ideation.

What career advice would you give to current CJC students?

Work on your craft. Build on your craft. Craft the hell out of your craft.

As a junior coming into the workforce, it’s so important to be able to do the thing – write, design, photograph, interview, animate, ideate. Teams are leaner than they were and if you can take the weight off your midlevel and senior teammates, you will be considered a gem. Your coworkers and supervisors will then invest their time in you through the form of feedback and opportunities and that’s exactly what you need to continue to grow.

Why is it important for alumni to give back to the College?

I think it makes success more tangible. Even in the year of 2024, doing what I do at my level, is unusual for a black woman. I wish that wasn’t the case. I want more talented, diverse thinking in my industry so I feel I need to encourage young talent and give opportunities for them to enter into the space. Whether that’s through scholarship donations or mentoring sessions, being a resource to the College and the Students allows young talent to see that unusual beginnings can lead to unusual success. And it’s important we share our experiences to help students navigate their unique paths to find their success.

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