2023 WISE Women of Year honoree and Ally CMO Andrea Brimmer is one of the country's most innovative marketing minds, having received the AdWeek Brand Genius Award in 2020, and honored as one of Business Insider's Most Innovative CMOs in 2022. Here, the creative force behind building the Ally financial services brand — one that has been instrumental in supporting women's sports across many media platforms — shares why embracing essentialism, choosing impact over accolades, and prizing tenacity above all other leadership skills define her personal brand and legacy.
Describe a moment in your career that you would say was pivotal to your professional journey.
When I came to Ally, I had spent 20 years on the ad agency side. I never thought I'd leave, and then I got a call out of the blue: "Hey, we're starting this new company. There's some risk involved, it was during significant economic turmoil." I took a pay cut and a demotion and a huge risk. I came here, and I thank God every day that I did.
It's been a once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to build a company from the ground up. To create a brand from scratch. To potentially create a legacy that — if successful — will last forever.
The idea that my grandkids are driving by someday and see that name up there on that building and they say, "my grandma was part of building that." That is everything.
What does success look like for you, and what do you do to work toward that vision?
Success — especially as I've aged — has changed. For me, it's less about accolades and personal accomplishment, and more about impact. What impact can I make with the platform I have.? Whether for teammates at Ally, for other women who are trying to figure it all out, or in the world at large. I look at, for instance, what we've done in women's sports as a way we're making an impact that has significant ripple effects. That's 100% how I measure my success.
'Essentialism' is a concept here at Ally that we talk about a lot. Embracing essentialism. What we mean by that is, there are so many things that come across your desk, that you could be distracted by. What are the MOST essential? What things return the MOST value — for the company, for shareholders, for our customers, and for whoever an initiative is aimed at? What is truly essential? Focus on that. Embrace essentialism.
Who has been your greatest role model and what did they teach you?
My greatest role models have always been my parents.
My dad was a judge. He did everything with incredible integrity and honor, and he treated people fairly and kindly and with respect — even though oftentimes he was sitting across the bench from people who had done some pretty horrible things. And he was always there for us, without fail, in every moment that mattered.
My mom stayed at home with us. She was highly educated and gave up her own career because family was so important to her. She was ﬁercely independent and strong and taught me from an early age: manage your own ﬁnances, always have your own career, and always have your own money. I drew so much on her own strength and fierce love for us.
Was there a moment you considered leaving the sports industry and what made you stay?
Other than thinking about being like a rock star or a professional soccer player? Ha! No, I love what I do and I'm happy every single day. I never wish I had done something else. For me, it's more about thinking of when the time comes to hand the reins of this job oﬀ to someone else … What will my next chapter look like? I'm never going to not do something.
Post-retirement I'd love to run a sports team, be an owner in the NWSL or a commissioner of a league. As a former soccer player, the opportunity to live into that side of my dreams and aspirations would be exciting.
How do you keep your ideas and contributions fresh and relevant? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I am a voracious reader. Not books so much, but the advertising trades, the sports trades, the music trades, anything in culture. I am a big believer in the inﬂuence of culture on creativity, and I draw a lot of inspiration from music, fashion and content. I look at artists, independent musicians and companies like United Masters, who are disrupting and completely changing the music industry.
I have always fallen in love with brands, so I also draw inspiration from studying the brands that I love. How have they become iconic brands? How have they intersected people's lives? I will often reach out to people at those companies and ask how they've done what they've done.I have always fallen in love with brands, so I also draw inspiration from studying the brands that I love. How have they become iconic brands? How have they intersected people's lives? How do they see around corners? I will often reach out to people at those companies and ask how they've done what they've done.
Take Shinola here in Detroit. They've expanded in so many ways. I love how they brought this notion of hard working American values and technology back to the Motor City.
I am a consistent and persistent fan of the Nike brand. It's fascinating how they are constantly reinventing the model with continuous new product launches, and now moving into fitness and well being. It's really brilliant.
I am inspired by fashion brands like Gucci — they've done a masterful job of completely reinventing themselves, becoming so culturally iconic right now with all the collaborations they've done.
I will also reach out to brands and people who fascinate me, just to pick their brain about how they do what they do. Understanding disruptive forces is critical to staying relevant and that requires an extremely active learning agenda.
In your career, what has been a 'pinch me, I'm dreaming' moment?
I think that a lot — I love my job so much. My biggest 'pinch me' moment was when I was standing down on the field for the National Women's Soccer League championship game this past October. We had worked to get the game into prime time — it was the first time a women's championship had ever been played in prime time.
As a former soccer player, seeing the stadium packed as they're getting ready to play, with the kickoﬀ on prime time … I realized that no little girl would ever have to think again, 'I can't get the big stage.' We helped create the opportunity with the NWSL and CBS. That was very emotional for me.
How have you helped break down barriers and create opportunities for women in the industry?
There is a massive disconnect with the growth and popularity of women's sports and the coverage it receives — that women still get less than 10% of the media coverage is head-scratching. To make change, it's not just about what is said, it's about doing something real, like making our 50-50 pledge.
We are really reinventing the model. We are getting those games moved to primetime. We just did a huge media deal with Disney and The ACC, around women's sports. We've been working with a lot of outlets to change how they are selling women's sports, the positions they are giving it on their platforms. We are working with Angela Ruggerio at Sports Innovation Lab to measure it, to prove the ROI. And then we've been sitting with those outlets to show the data that women's sports deliver outsize returns. We show that we are willing to make real change through investment. We are ready to bring money to the table. And we are helping them to think diﬀerently. We are trying to change the space one deal at a time.
What leadership skill is critical to your success today?
Tenacity. It's a hard world, and you can't have any letdown. What we're doing is hard. It's never been done before. You have to keep pushing.
Lightning Round …
- When I got started in this business, I wish I had known … Life is sloppy. Embrace the slop!
- My greatest fear is … Not adding value. When I outlive my usefulness, it'll be time to hang it up.
- Growing up, I wanted to be … A pro soccer player, of course!
- When I have downtime, you can find me … Floating on a boat on the lake that we live on.
- I can't wait to read … a book by Scott O'Neil (CEO of Merlin Entertainments) called Be Where Your Feet Are.
- My favorite listen is … The Highway on XM Radio. And the Laughter Permitted podcast — Julie Foudy is just incredible at what she does.
Brimmer will receive her WISE Women of the Year Award at the 27th Annual Awards Luncheon on March 15, 2023, in New York City.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.