The Female Focus: Kristina Ryan

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Introducing Kristina Ryan

From Sweden to Los Angeles and now based in London we talked to senior advertising creative Kristina on her love for design, how motherhood has made her a better creative and her ideas on how the advertising industry can step up to better support working parents.


Born and raised in Sweden, then Los Angeles and now a proud Londoner - you're certainly well travelled! What have you learned from living in all these different places?

I originally went to LA to pursue a music career, and whilst I realised that I liked making ads more than I liked making music, it certainly helped shape who I am today, as a person and a creative. And of course, my nursery songs are second to none... I’ve been making them up for my daughter since she was born, and we have quite the catalogue now.

I don’t know if it’s age (ahem) or having lived in several different countries and cultures, but I’m certainly much more clear on what I want to accomplish in my career and private life now. Even though I spent 15 years in LA, I always longed for a more European way of life, especially when it comes to work/life balance. In the US, you’ll have very sparse (if any) annual leave, and I don’t think that’s healthy in the long run. There’s also a social aspect to European life (public transport, pubs, parks) that I think really helps with general wellbeing.

You made the switch from the media world to creative ad-land. Why? 

Advertising is my core background, and my first love, really (even as a kid I’d make up slogans for my toys and pitch them to my family). When I moved to London, I did a lot of freelancing to build contacts and get some UK brands in my book, so that’s how I got into media. I think it was inevitable that I’d return to advertising, though…it’s the best job in the world!

You work at mr.h an independent creative agency. What do you do there and what are you working on? 

We specialise in travel and high end lifestyle brands, so a lot of my days are spent looking at gorgeous holiday imagery. It’s a tough job, eh. I just wrapped a print campaign for Cayman Islands which will start rolling out in September. I’m the Senior Creative, so I get my hands in a bit of everything, and I’m also in charge of new business pitches alongside our senior account manager. Being a small house, we all work very closely together, which is nice, because I’ve always been a big proponent of inviting ideas from everyone. A good idea can come from anywhere, and by looking outside of the core team you can get perspectives that would’ve been overlooked otherwise. 


What is the culture like at the agency? Do you enjoy working there?

There’s something quite special about a small agency, and you end up being a family, as cliché as that sounds. There’s also a real sense of working together, that’s sometimes lost in bigger agencies. Luckily everyone at the agency is really cool, since we are in close quarters. I really do love working there (and not just saying that because they’ll read this); it’s a very positive and supportive environment.

How do you find juggling being a mum and a working creative? 

I think it’s key to work somewhere your worth is measured by the work, not the hours at your desk. I am full time in the office, but there are inevitably going to be days when I have to work from home due to some childhood illness or another. I’m not going to take full credit, though. My husband and I split sick day duties and usually alternate days, and it really helps having a hands-on partner, especially as we don’t have family close by. That being said, being a creative doesn’t end at 5.30! When we have a pitch or campaign going, it’s always humming along in the back of my mind and the eureka moments rarely happen at a desk. I think you have to have a certain degree of flex in the creative industries, and it goes both ways.

And sometimes the mum and creative worlds simply have to co-exist. Last year, we were filming in Norway and since I was still nursing then, my husband and daughter came along to the shoot. Most days, I was on set and they went exploring, but on the last day, they came to visit the set. And of course, as soon as my daughter saw me, she wanted milk… So there I was on a street in Norway, kid on my boob, eyes on the monitor as we finished the shoot. I’ve never felt more badass. 

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What's made you better at your job since being a mother?

Well, they’re both quite creative jobs actually. Both involve trying to convince someone to do what you want, and finding new and creative ways to accomplish it. And, of course, the multitasking skills of a working parent are second to none!

How could the industry as a whole 'step-up' more for working parents?

Honestly, I think the whole system of parental pay and nursery costs is set up for working parents (and usually mums) to fail. The idea that parental leave pay isn’t income based is just crazy! And with nursery costs on par with a second mortgage, it’s easy to see how women drop out of the workforce. But, of course I’m Swedish, so I have an entirely different idea of how it should work.

Our industry seems to be even worse for women, and that is definitely something that has to change. What’s encouraging is that people have started a conversation about it, and there are organisations actively looking to support women and increase return rates after mat leave. But of course, it all comes down to each and every company doing their part. It’s all fine and well to talk/tweet/petition about it, but if change isn’t happening at the company levels, it’s just lip service. It’s about flex time, financial rewards (i.e. raises on the same level as ‘non-mum employees’), and looking beyond the time sheet for employee value. And of course, recognise that working parents often cannot join for the after-work drinks whilst juggling nursery pickup, so create other opportunities for the teams to socialise. Otherwise, there can be a big sense of isolation.

Are there any networking / support groups / blogs that you've found as good resources for working mothers you'd like to share?

SheSays and Creative Equals are brilliant organisations, and ones that I can really see making a difference. Increasingly, there are badass women who stand up and say enough, and the industry is starting to pay attention.  Also, the BackHer returnship framework (by Ali Hanan and Kat Hahn) is so important! I wish the conversation was this vibrant when I was returning from mat leave. 

Did you have female role models growing up? If so who were they and what did you learn from them?

My mum, of course. And my dad (does that count, even though he’s not a female?). My parents are both very interested in design and creativity, and I grew up immersed in that world. And they have always been completely supportive of my goals – I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to let their baby girl saunter off to LA at 20 with a suitcase and a dream. Georgie (my daughter) is staying at home until she’s at least 50!  

Also, Lucille Ball. She managed to build her brand into an empire, in the face of a ‘women belong in the kitchen’ culture (not to mention a cheating chauvinist husband), whilst being impossibly funny. She was one of the original #badasswomen.

Who are your role models now? 

Frank Lloyd Wright. He made design and its environment work together to make them one, and he was insanely ahead of his time.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s all kinds of fearless and is changing the political conversation in the US. She’s the anti-Trump.

Hollie Newton. Not only did she create some of my favourite campaigns throughout her ad career, but then she moved to the country and wrote a gardening book. How amazing is that! My long-term life plan is literally that, except I’d write a cookbook instead.

Colin Kaepernick. He’s quite literally sacrificed his career and livelihood to stand up for (or kneel for, rather) what he believes in, and has helped bring a crucial conversation to the global stage. He’s amazing.

2018 was the year of #PressforProgress - what are you personally going to do to contribute?

In my professional capacity, I will make a point to support younger creatives and push for promoting potential, and I’m looking to get more actively involved in industry organisations that help lift up young and/or returning females. I also make a conscious choice to promote body positive images in the ads we put out – there will be no making thighs thinner and boobs bigger on my watch!

But perhaps my biggest opportunity to make the world a better place in the long run is raising a person who is kind, tolerant and open minded. My hope is that not too many generations from now everyone can finally be equal.

What inspires you? What are you reading / listening too?

I’m blessed with a short commute, and that is really the only time I get to sit down (or stand up…) and read these days, so I tend to go for easy read fiction that lets me tune out in short bursts. Right now, I’m reading “I see you” by Clare Mackintosh and it’s a proper page turner.

Music-wise, I tend to just dump everything I like into my Spotify songs, and it’s an absolute mishmash of everything from Eurovision bangers (I love Eurovision, and won’t hear a bad word about it) to Bob Dylan. I’m a serial skipper, so Spotify premium is a must…

I’m also massively into cooking, so I tend to read food magazines and watch cookery shows and then go a bit overboard in Waitrose for cooking marathons at the weekend. My daughter is getting increasingly interested in helping in the kitchen, and we get good and messy. Cooking is such an important life skill for obvious reasons, but for me it’s also a great stress release. In an alternate universe, I’d be Michel Roux Jr.

What advice would you give young girls starting out in design today?

Be confident in yourself and your work. And if you’re not feeling confident, fake it, and eventually it’ll come naturally. It’s a competitive industry and no one is going to offer up a seat at the table…so take it. It’s also important to get constructive feedback on your portfolio – the layout and presentation is just as important as the work, but it’s often overlooked. Recruiters can provide really good support with this, and are very often happy to help. Or, simply reach out to seniors in the industry and ask for help. My email is if anyone wants to hold me to it.

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What are the words you live by?

“Always look on the bright side of life.” I’m a chronic worryier and tend to cook up all kinds of worst case scenarios in my head. It’s something I’m really trying to be better about. Also, I had a big crush on Eric Idle when I was a kid.

To take Kristina up on her offer to check over your design portfolio or simply to connect follow her on Twitter. Thank you Kristina, we loved featuring you on #TheFemaleFocus!