Today, on a day celebrating women, we’re introducing our inaugural list of Mighty Women. Working with our friends at Toronto creative agency Giants & Gentlemen—co-founded and led by two women, Alanna Nathanson and Natalie Armata—The Message launched this initiative to celebrate women across the industry.
The 10 women listed below were chosen for doing extraordinary things in marketing, media and advertising. They are brand and business builders, connecting clients to their consumers, and creating breakthrough communications.
But these women also impressed our judges for doing great things that aren’t in the job description. They are bold, brave and determined—mentors and friends, mothers and daughters, colleagues and co-workers.
“It’s always a little scary to launch something new for this industry,” said Libby Begg, The Message partner and publisher. “We knew we wanted it to be different. We wanted to shine a light on individual women and their personal experiences, rather than just their work achievements.”
The final list was chosen from 87 submissions from across the country, and while we are celebrating them as individuals they are also representative of the many thousands of women doing mighty things across this industry every day.
As Begg pointed out in her weekly letter this week: “If your nominee didn’t make the list this year, it’s not because they aren’t Mighty Women. It became abundantly clear during the judging process that our industry is truly filled with them.”
The list was chosen in two stages by our jury of eight industry leading women (all of them Mighty in their own right), with Nathanson and Armata serving as chairs. The judges were broken into groups to review and score the submissions, and then met for a half-day judging session to discuss and debate the merits of each top 10 contender before finally settling on the names you see below.
“The judging meeting itself was fluid, and no two stories are alike, so we had a lot of interesting discussions,” said Armata. “We were thrilled at how well our inaugural Mighty List came together,” added Nathanson. “Between the plethora of inspiring entries, and the equally inspiring group of judges, we’re so proud of what we as women have been able to accomplish in our industry.”
”We were incredibly fortunate to have an amazing group of female judges who joined us on this journey in our inaugural year, and whose insights and perspectives led us to this final list of 10 Mighty Women,” added Begg.
To mark International Women’s Day, we’re making short introductions to the 10 Mighty Women below. But we will be sharing more in-depth stories of each person on the list in the coming days. Stay tuned to our newsletters for more.
Lisa Reid, P&G
Lisa Reid has steadily climbed the ranks at P&G Canada over the past 15-plus years—from assistant brand manager to country lead for P&G Beauty Canada. Reid has worked tirelessly to modernize the category, shaking up decades-old ideas about beauty marketing to make it more inclusive and diverse. That has resulted in a series of ground-breaking campaigns about gender, colour and women in sports that not only challenged stereotypes, but drove sales and brand growth. Beyond that, Reid has been praised by colleagues and co-workers for her progressive approach to managing her team of 55 people under the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, and has been an active contributor to promoting mental health and wellness at P&G.
Ishma Alexander-Huet, Initiative
As a vice-president at Initiative, overseeing large accounts like RBC, Wendy’s and Lego, Alexander-Huet’s accomplishments make her a role model for other young Black professionals coming into the industry. But she is also a vocal and active champion of change, working to create not just opportunities for young BIPOC talent entering the industry, but providing them with a safe and welcoming space where they can be truly themselves. She’s also an industry leader beyond her role with Initiative, as part of POCAM and Code Black, and as co-chair of the CMA’s Media Council. She also speaks out about dealing with sexism and mental health challenges.
Mo Bofill, 123W
Mooren (Mo) Bofill spent the early part of her career refining her craft and building the design credibility at well-known creative shops. She won awards from the world’s top advertising shows, and helped transform some of Canada’s most iconic brands—rising to the executive level at one of the most successful agencies in the country. But then she stepped away to take on a new challenge as partner at 123W, spearheading the opening of an office in Toronto. Beyond those achievements, Bofill is also an active advocate for a more diverse and inclusive industry, serving as both a mentor and teacher at Miami Ad School; a board member for The Advertising & Design Club of Canada; and as a speaker with Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario.
Nicole McCormick, Rogers / CityTV
As a senior manager and editor at CityNews in Toronto, Nicole McCormick is a highly accomplished storyteller and journalist. She is also from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ohsweken, a member of the Mohawk nation, and chair of the Rogers Indigenous People’s Network—where, among other things, she helped created Downie-Wenjack Legacy Spaces in Toronto and Kelowna. Beyond that work, she also shares her own story of a difficult childhood as a way of showing that Indigenous people belong in media, as well as to break down barriers and change the way media has told stories of Indigenous Canadians for too long. “I try to tell stories about people who have been overlooked and undervalued,” she says.
Michelle Czukar, Rooster Post Production
Michelle Czukar is a world-class commercial editor famous for her passion for the craft and a reputation for mentoring other women trying to make their way in the industry. During a 30-year career, she has edited videos for iconic artists like David Bowie, The Cure and The Tragically Hip, won top industry awards and, more recently, applied her unique style and compassionate eye to powerful commercial work such as the Hubert Davis-directed “Boys Don’t Cry” PSA. “Michelle Czukar is an incredible editor,” said Shelley Lewis, director and one of The Mighty Women judges. “Not only is she a woman who was able to carve out her own path in the very male dominated world of filmmaking, but she did it with a bang.”
Ira Baptiste, Evolve Agency Group
In 2003, Ira Baptiste was offered a client-side role at a telco in Czech Republic. One problem: She didn’t speak Czech, and the locals didn’t speak English. But in what has become a hallmark of her career, she leapt at the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone. As a Black woman who entered the industry when it was still a “man’s world,” Baptiste said a polite but firm “no” to assumptions about what her career path would look like. She also learned the importance of listening and choosing the right time to speak up. Now among the industry’s senior stateswomen, the senior vice-president, managing director of Evolve Agency Group never lost sight of the importance of encouragement and support. “We’re all capable of so much more than we think,” she says.
Edie Weiss, Radke Film Group
Edie Weiss never planned for a career in production. After earning her masters degree in social work, she was planning to work with disadvantaged youth when she was approached by commercial director Richard Radke to launch a production company. Radke died tragically in 1994, but instead of simply folding the company that bore his name, Weiss became president of Radke Films and put her own imprimatur on the business. Today, she oversees a sprawling production empire under the Radke name that includes Vapor music, Steam, OPC, Common Good, Soft Citizen, Free Society, and Film Group Vancouver. Beyond her work for clients, Weiss also created POV Films, a non-profit committed to bringing promising BIPOC creators into the film TV and advertising industries that is approaching its 15th anniversary.
Jenny Smith, Ray
Nine years ago, Jenny Smith’s career path took an unexpected diversion when she was among the staff cutbacks at the Newfoundland agency where she had been one of the lead creatives. She received multiple job offers from Toronto agencies, but instead made the far riskier decision to launch her own agency in a province where big clients are few and far between. Since then, Ray has grown to 20 people and boasts clients across Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. Smith was a finalist at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2017, and one of Atlantic Business Magazine‘s top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada from 2017-2021. She has also been invited to judge the Cannes Lions twice.
Falguni Patel, Rethink
Falguni Patel has spent the past 10 years working to improve HR practices in advertising. Frequently the youngest and only person of colour in the room, she has learned to confidently advocate for her perspective. She began her career trying to fit the mold of the predominantly Caucasian work environments she found herself in, before making a conscious decision to embrace her South Asian heritage. That decision unlocked Patel’s confidence and led to her emergence as one of the industry’s most respected and admired BIPOC leaders. In addition to being an accomplished HR professional who helped build Rethink’s HR department—From scratch. During a pandemic—she is also a board member with Justice for Children and Youth, a Toronto charity that provides low-income with legal representation.
Marilyn Barefoot’s life and career is a testament to being brave in the face of obstacles and adversity. She survived an abusive childhood to build a multi-million-dollar advertising agency in the basement of her house. More recently, she successfully battled breast cancer while maintaining her role as a premiere creative thinker and brainstorming specialist, consulting with some of the world’s biggest brands and companies. She is also the host of a successful podcast called Breaking Brave, which features the stories of brave people from all walks of life. She is currently writing a book about the need for more bravery in business. She says she’s on a mission to pave the way for a better future for women, while being a tireless advocate for those who need to be heard and encouraged to speak up.