Sandra Bonnick, an industry leader who had to break into a ‘secret society’

—It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry: marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Written by POCAM members, the profiles are a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better—

Sandra Bonnick remembers when she knew she wanted to work in advertising. “They brought me to an agency presentation, and I was sold,” she said. “The only thing was, I wasn’t a copywriter or art director, which is the meeting I sat in on. I did some investigation, and realized there was also a business side to the advertising world.”

And Bonnick, it turned out, is very good at the business side of advertising. Today she is the vice-president and head of operations at Mindshare. She is data-focused and insight-driven, one of the key members of Mindshare’s senior leadership, leading design and implementing effective operations that drive productivity, improve internal processes, and push financial rewards that transform the business.

She’s a true leader in the industry, but she also remembers how hard it was breaking in 20 years ago.

Back then, the industry functioned like a “secret society,” she says. “A lot of people got in based on relationships and who they knew in the business. Clearly, that wasn’t going to be my angle, given my background. I graduated top of my class, which qualified me to get first pick on available internships and entry-level positions. However, despite my qualifications, positive attitude, and willingness to work hard, I wasn’t given the opportunity.

“I recall my professor telling me that my value to a company will only be recognized once I finally got hired—[suggesting] that my qualifications could be overlooked during an interview. Which is exactly what happened after countless interviews. Today, I realize how right she was, but how incredibly wrong that was, too. This type of discrimination should not happen, ever.”

One of the key turning points in her career was her promotion to a managing director role at Mindshare. She was the first internal promotion to the executive leadership team, and historically, the roles were always filled externally. In addition, she was the only woman of colour in this role.

Asked about bias, microaggressions and racism in the Industry today, Bonnick says she always feels a sense of responsibility to challenge the “norm.”

“Ask the uncomfortable questions to CMOs and CEOs about their choices of targeting and/exclusions, diversity used in communications, biases in their algorithms that could exclude or limit offers to marginalized communities etc,” she said.

Although the industry has come a long way in terms of being more inclusive, Bonnick feels a lot more can be done. “Evolve recruitment strategies and outreach programs. Support Black and BIPOC programming through ad support. Create company DEI groups with the objective to drive tangible change. Make it more than about being heard but a real action plan to change the landscape,” she said.

Bonnick herself is a torchbearer for the BIPOC cause, and has been volunteering her time for various DEI programs, and speaking engagements to promote and encourage individuals in her community to join the industry. She also actively challenges recruitment strategies and outreach programs in Mindshare.

Bonnick is transforming the way Black people enter and mingle in the world of advertising, and she’s guided by a personal mantra we all should live by: “Life is not a dress rehearsal, live it to the fullest!”

We believe that change can start at home and at your workplace. Even a conversation can move mindsets, and we’re here for everyone out there making this industry a more inclusive place to work.

This profile was written by POCAM steering committee member Joycelyn David, owner and CEO of AV Communications.