Deutsch’s Pam Scheideler on rising to the top and finding your tribe in a ‘Mad Men’ world
Story By Christina Campodonico | Photos Courtesy of Wimmies
Deutsch partner Pam Scheideler does not think of herself as a futurist. Yet as the ad agency’s Chief Digital Officer, she’s spearheaded some of the firm’s most innovative web campaigns — from the creation of a platform that’ll match you with your perfect Volkswagen model to the development of a chat bot that’ll take your Taco Bell orders via Slack. Her teams have even engineered a program that’ll harness the power of your voice so that you can drive a car virtually on your computer.
That inventive outlook has earned her accolades from industry platforms such as The Internationalist, Cannes Lions and Campaign US (including an “Innovators” award). But Scheideler believes that her real superpower isn’t really about clairvoyance, but bringing a tangible taste of the future into the present.
“What I would say my real ninja power is, is that I’m able to understand futurists, and then kind of bring that future closer in,” said Scheideler, 46, who started coding at age 11 on a Commodore 64. “Technology for technology’s sake is not as interesting as showing the impact that it will have on our lives. … So I feel like a translator for futurists.”
And despite the internet’s implosion in 2016, Scheideler is still a big believer in the worldwide web, discussing its early impact on her during the Wimmies’ (Women in Media) October Fall Fête, held at Deutsch’s Playa Vista Steelhead studio. (Wimmies is a nonprofit networking group for women in digital media and marketing.)
As a kid growing up in rural upstate New York, the internet was Scheideler’s sanctuary.
“One of the reasons why I love the internet so much and I’m so fiercely passionate about the internet as a community organizing tool is because it created a way to connect with people that shared your same interest, so that I didn’t have to go to high school and pretend that I [cared] about football,” she confessed during the fireside chat.
Scheideler also discussed her mixed reaction to receiving her first computer (remember that Commodore 64?), which in her mind really should have been a ColecoVision gaming consul.
“My mom was kind of hippie-ish and she was like, ‘You know, if you learn to code your own games you can make up whatever you want,’” said Scheideler. “And so then I dutifully, out of total boredom, wound up writing a program that was like, ‘Input the month of your birthday and I’ll tell you back your birthstone,’ and off I went.”
That tech background led her to a formative stint at an e-commerce company in the early 2000s, founding her own interactive production company, and eventually heading up production and operations at Google’s Creative Lab, where she worked with a small team on “moonshot” projects pushing the boundaries of technology.
“When a spaceship pulls up into your backyard, you don’t ask any questions, you just get in,” she joked with me later about getting the job at Google.
But before that, Scheideler worked in New York advertising and discussed the challenges of moving between the all-hands-on-deck-style of tech in her early career to the more hierarchical world of “Mad Men”-style advertising.
“There were a lot of Don Draper-like vibes,” she said, referencing the popular TV show’s headstrong lead. “I really struggled to find myself.”
But like Peggy Olson, the lone female copywriter in “Mad Men’s” fictional ad firm, she carved out her own path, eventually finding her way to L.A.’s advertising community. “I feel comfortable with the technical and creative community in LA as that combination here feels like something very special,” she later told me.
During the fireside chat, Scheideler also discussed the tough decision to return from maternity leave early and offered tailored advice to young women on how to deal with career-sabotaging male bosses, balancing work and family, and finding an empowering work culture.
“Basically your life consists of the five people that you spend the most time with,” she said. “It really is about how you spend your time and the people that you let into your life.”
Scheideler later cited groups like Wimmies as a positive way for professional women to find peer support.
“If you surround yourself with like-minded, female professionals that are working on figuring out how to navigate a tilted landscape, that’s a good idea,” she told me.
As for finding her own tribe, Scheideler feels right at home at Deutsch, joking that if her husband hadn’t insisted on moving to Malibu, she’d probably live right across the street from the firm in Playa Vista.
“I’d be here all the time,” she laughed. “I’m blown away by the tech and creative culture in LA, specifically in Playa Vista.”