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Uprising: The Joy of Making Great Work for Aleeza Yermus

BBDO Canada’s senior social strategist speaks about learning from those around you, the industry’s need for improved diversity and cherishing her Jewish ancestry

Uprising: The Joy of Making Great Work for Aleeza Yermus

“My mom found me at age three standing at my easel, wearing nothing but rainboots and a smock, paint everywhere, smiling big at my canvas.”

Aleeza was brimming with energy as a child and when she wasn’t writing stories, illustrating and generally ‘pushing the boundaries’ of her blossoming creativity, she could be found climbing trees and even building igloos. In retrospect, this early spark for storytelling and ‘thinking outside the box’ foreshadowed a career in advertising.

Aleeza’s boundless energy was focused into sports from a young age, which she believes developed her character as a child. The 16 hours a week of competitive gymnastics instilled a ‘strong sense of discipline and determination’ in her and her other passion, basketball, taught her ‘to work hard and the invaluable lesson of being a strong team player’. However, art has been Aleeza’s strongest form of self-expression. “It allows me to take a step back, reflect on how I’m feeling and convey it to the world in a visual way.”

Although she’s ‘not a religious person’, Aleeza grew up immersed in Jewish culture and cherishes the importance of the history and ethnic ties that she shares with her family and ancestors. “My Jewish grandparents, who I’m extremely close with, are not only adorable but they have great sense of Yiddish humour and make a mean Matzo ball soup - a constant staple in my home growing up.” Aleeza’s family teachings and her experiences at Jewish summer camp - where she met lifelong friends - ‘provoked a sense of resilience’ and forged a sense of community that serves as a guide for her life to this day. 

Being in this community and around friends is what empowers Aleeza and despite being a ‘quieter’ person, she loves to meet new people, especially when travelling. “I’m a passionate and highly agreeable person - sometimes to my own deficit, as my close friends would say. I like to see the best in people and believe that a positive attitude and a smile can go a long way.”

Aleeza studied sociology and psychology at McGill University in Montreal. “Aside from the 4am nights and freezing winters, those four years were some of the best of my life.” There, she enjoyed learning about human behaviour and motivations, which laid a foundation for work in marketing, and she even got the opportunity to participate in an exchange program to the Netherlands. “Though I don’t speak a word of Dutch, I loved their straightforward nature and exploring their beautiful country, as well as 14 other European countries.”

Whilst completing her Master’s degree in communications, Aleeza landed an internship at DentsuBos and naturally started working on the creative side as a junior art director. “When my internship finished, I was told that if I wanted to get into creative, I needed to go back to school. And having just finished 15 years of school, I was like, umm I need to work. And that’s where the long and winding road to becoming a creative strategist began.” 

Beginning her career in marketing, Aleeza learned to build ‘aesthetic, rich and digestible’ decks with Adobe InDesign and gained some invaluable advice. “Ask many questions, absorb as many answers as possible. When starting out, the only way to learn is by doing and learning from those around you.” Her first professional project involved making a 100-page document of global food halls for a retail consulting firm, but a recent BBDO project for Ford is the one that sticks out as the one that changed her career. “I had the opportunity for the first time in my career to work on a super cool stunt with an extremely high production budget,” she says.

To promote an all-electric Mustang, the piece had to be big - but the pandemic had thrown a spanner in the works. “We decided to reimagine the test drive experience and built a real-life 100,000 SF track where users could collectively control the cars in real time through the chat function on Twitch… it was pretty badass to say the least.”

Baycrest’s Fear No Age campaign - a project that dealt with topics including aging and dementia - is a recent campaign that posed an interesting creative challenge for Aleeza. “The challenge was conveying this idea of ‘fearing no age’ in a way that was comforting to people, as opposed to scary, but that was still bold.” To solve this dilemma, the young social strategist and her team worked to adapt the tone and communication strategies so that the advertising could stand out, whilst the messaging remained optimistic and comforting.

Aleeza is glad to work in a creative culture with ‘truly inspiring, amazing people’ and gets to operate across a variety of areas of the business, which can sometimes be a challenge for Aleeza’s curious spirit that wants to get ‘deep into the weeds’ of a business. She says, “I love working on multiple projects daily and getting exposure to many different brands, but I don’t get to dive deeply into any one client. So sometimes it’s like my understanding of the business is more surface level.” As well as deepening her knowledge, Aleeza aspires to create the best work possible, which she believes comes from the ‘intersection of both creativity and innovation’.

As inspiration in the industry, Aleeza looks up to Julian Cole and commends his resources that provide ‘comprehensive education, frameworks, and templates’ for new strategists developing in the field. She says, “His webinars are extremely thorough and his Planning Dirty academy is something I refer back to on almost a daily basis to help bring strategic thinking, brief-writing and insights to life in a meaningful and structured way.” 

Working at the intersection between creativity and technology and data, Aleeza feels the two components of the industry are often at odds. Though she says that the resulting debate and collaboration is ‘where the magic happens’. Another conflict that she believes can be positive, is the struggle between advertisers and a large portion of the public who ‘generally don’t like ads’ - using ad-blockers and becoming more sceptical about branded content. “It puts us advertising folks in a unique position where we’re forced to not only make great work that disrupts, but that does so in a way that feels less like an ad and more of a helpful solution.”

When it comes to improving the industry, Aleeza also believes there is room for improvement regarding diversity. “While there’s been some progress, I think the industry still has a long way to go”. Diversity is clearly a passionate issue for Aleeza, who is part of the BBDO Diversity, Equality and Inclusion team, where they give light to pro bono initiatives. “At the end of the day, making great work feels good but making great work for good, feels better.”
Outside of work, Aleeza decompresses in a way that allows her to still express her creative side, painting abstract acrylics on large canvases, drawing, baking gluten-free desserts for her celiac partner and doing yoga. She has even been selling her own art in recent years, which fortunately has picked up furthermore during the pandemic.  Films and music are also two major relaxation tools, acknowledging Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and Wes Anderson as some of her favourite directors to transport her to a different world and Mt. Joy or Big Wild as artists to soundtrack her life. 

Aleeza isn’t one to be complacent and finds it difficult to work for work’s sake. “To succeed in both my career and personal life, I need to be passionate and enjoy what I’m doing,” she says. What motivates her is working with ‘awesome people’ and doing work that captivates her passions. “’I’m lucky in my current role that I not only love what I do, but I get to do it alongside an incredible team, who’s cheering me on along the way.”

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