Prerna Mehra is not just a Creative Director; she's a visionary who has left a mark with her groundbreaking campaigns and unwavering commitment to creativity. From designing for Miss India-World to reshaping the landscape of AI bias, her journey is a testament to the power of creativity and determination.
Prerna Mehra, Creative Director and Head of Art & Design at MullenLowe MENA, kickstarted her professional journey in India working with leading advertising agencies including JWT, Ogilvy, Creativeland Asia, and Cheil Worldwide. She took over as the Creative Director and Head of Art and Design at MullenLowe MENA in 2020 and since then has spearheaded groundbreaking campaigns and nation-building projects such as The Emirates Mars Orbit Insertion and The World’s Tallest Donation Box. These campaigns earned her recognition on regional and international stages including Cresta, Webbys, Caples, Lynx, Gerety, and Shorty Social Good Awards. She’s also been named the “Most Influential Youth Marketing Professional” in India and served as a jury member for prestigious awards like the LIAs, Clio Awards, Gerety Awards, Adfest, The Caples, Immortal Awards, Dubai Lynx, and Young Guns by One Show. At MullenLowe MENA, she continues to work with an incredible roster of brands such as Emirates, Samsung, Coca-Cola, Audi, and more in her current role. She explores her love for fashion in her time off, having designed clothes for Miss India-World and crafting accessories and jewelry for Avon’s bestsellers. Each creative endeavor adds to her ever-growing design versatility.
Outside your 9-5 job, we know you love fashion, so much so that you’ve also pursued it professionally when you were in India. Tell us a little more about how you fell into that and what it means for you.
My passion for art and design was sparked at a young age. I was always drawn to making things visually pleasing, captivating, and aesthetic. While other kids stopped in stores to buy candies, I found myself cruising the aisles, fascinated by the packaging. I had a collection of all things beautiful, from wrappers and notebooks to cards, packaging boxes, and even the tags that came with fancy dresses (thanks to my dad for the occasional spoiling). Now, imagine a mischievous 5-year-old with extra-long eyelashes and a pair of scissors, begging for a daring adventure. My mom nearly fainted at the sight, but she couldn’t deny the dexterity of my tiny hands. She had visions of me becoming a prodigious surgeon, but little did she know, my heart yearned for a different runway altogether. I was obsessed with fashion design. I dreamt of dressing the crème de la crème and hobnobbing with the glitterati. Little did I know then, the rabbit hole went much deeper than sequins and red carpets. Fast forward to my art college days, and I vividly recall my advertising teacher innocently asking why I sought a career in the industry. Without missing a beat, I replied, “For the fame and glamour!” As luck would have it, I’ve achieved what most only dream of. I’ve juggled everything from dressing Miss India World in one of my show-stopping, fire-cracking creations (it was for a Diwali edition) to crafting jewelry and accessories that make heads turn. I’ve also dabbled with interior design, crafting unforgettable brand campaigns, and designing works that have stolen the spotlight and captured hearts. And so, that’s where the journey began—eyelashes trimmed, dreams ablaze, and a craving for a life painted in vibrant hues.
What does creativity mean to you? How has the definition, in your opinion, evolved in the world of advertising and marketing?
Creativity, to me, has always held the same meaning throughout—it is the ability to surprise and captivate. Anything that catches you off guard and makes you go, “Well, I didn’t see that coming!”— that’s creativity for me. Back in the day when TV commercials ruled the roost, we embarked on epic quests to unearth those elusive “penny-drop” moments. Hours, days, even months would be spent pondering over a brief, searching for that unexpected twist or turn. Designers and art directors would wrack their brains for fresh layouts, mind-boggling creatives, and designs that could make jaws drop. The lengths we would go to surprise our audience! And here we are today, still on the hunt for those breathtaking surprises, those thumb-stopping moments that defy expectations. The game has changed with new media and ever-evolving technology. But the essence of creativity remains steadfast. In this ever-evolving world, where attention spans are fleeting, creativity remains the driving force behind effective advertising and marketing strategies.
What are some of the challenges that you battle on an everyday basis in your current role as a Creative Director?
One of the top challenges on my list is keeping the young teams engaged, motivated, and filled with excitement. There’s a new phenomenon affecting the youngest employees, called “boreout". Gone are the days when they aspired to be experts in PowerPoint slides or masters of meetings and data analysis. Gen Z have different life goals; they seek meaning, a sense of purpose, and the opportunity to make a tangible impact on society. Asking them to create a social media post and actually getting them excited about it is like trying to herd cats on roller skates. This challenge, I’m sure is faced by many other creative directors who have these incredible Gen-Z talents on their teams.
Tell us a bit about your personal style of working. How do you continue to inspire yourself every day and keep striving to deliver?
I have an insatiable thirst for learning new things and acquiring new skills. Getting my hands dirty and diving into challenges is where I find my groove. Solving problems gives me an adrenaline rush like no other. And you know what keeps me going? A healthy dose of fear—fear of becoming obsolete. That fear keeps me on my toes. When it comes to my team, I believe in giving them the freedom to shine. And, of course, I’m always backup-ready. Let’s face it, life loves throwing curveballs.
What does a woman’s touch in creative roles like yours mean? How can organizations truly tap into it and attract/retain women’s talent?
Women’s innate creativity extends beyond the workplace, leading to fresh perspectives in all sectors. With women currently holding 40% of global wealth, their influence is projected to rise by 7.2% by 2023, reaching a staggering $30 trillion in the US alone this year. Their natural empathy allows them to deeply understand audiences, infusing work with meaning. Organizations must embrace this reality, recognizing that gender diversity in senior executive teams correlates with high performance. To retain talented women, bias-free environments that foster growth and support are crucial. The future is undeniably female.
Could you enlighten us about some of the work that you executed and are truly proud of?
They say you’re only as good as your last piece of work, and I must say, our recent work - “Fixing the bAIs” is undoubtedly one of my finest accomplishments. This campaign-turned-movement offers a brilliant solution to address the gender bias in AI, using AI itself. “Fixing the bAIs,” is a remarkable accomplishment addressing gender bias in AI. Using cutting-edge image-generating AI tools such as Midjourney and DALL-E, we curated a vast collection of images showcasing women in diverse professions. These images were shared with stock image banks, social media platforms, and open datasets for AI training, removing gender-related metadata. Our royalty-free and rights-free images are downloaded and utilized to teach AI about gender equality. This campaign has made a significant impact, influencing new AI policies in 52 countries and sparking discussions with ministries and councils to create gender-inclusive laws. It’s a step towards building an equitable world where AI reflects and represents everyone.
Have you experienced biases throughout your career where you’ve been doubted of your capability of delivering at work just because you’re a woman?
Yes. Bias has unfortunately been a constant companion throughout my career. But you know what? I thrive on proving people wrong and watching their surprised faces. Let me share a memorable incident. We were pitching for a client in the heavy goods vehicle manufacturing industry. Our team consisted of two talented women—a copywriter and myself. The skepticism in the room was palpable. However, we wowed them with our ideas and won the account, leaving them astonished. Biases come in various forms, from dismissive comments to being overlooked in meetings. I’ve even faced assumptions based on my appearance. I cannot let go of the time I was stereotyped as a ‘daddy’s girl,’ based on my profile image which featured me dressed in ethnic attire. These biases fuel my determination to prove my worth. Despite the challenges, biases have become stepping stones to my victories. I embrace them as opportunities to break down stereotypes and create a more inclusive industry.
How do you believe you’ve contributed extensively to Mullenlowe with your skill and talent, and vice versa?
I take pride in my multidisciplinary approach, often referred to as a “miniagency” due to my ability to handle various tasks effortlessly. From initial briefs to strategic planning, idea generation, flawless execution, and PR coordination, I bring a unique blend of design thinking, idea generation, execution, and crafting—a rare combination that adds a distinctive touch to my work. MullenLowe has been an extraordinary part of my journey. The agency has enabled me to unleash my skills and contribute extensively to its success and reputation. Working at MullenLowe has been a transformative experience, filled with enriching and valuable collaborations. It has allowed me to explore the region, work with outstanding clients, and join forces with super-talented professionals. I’ve had the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring women who are passionate about pursuing a career in the creative field?
Be bold and unapologetic. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone but yourself. Avoid complacency at all costs. Embrace continuous learning and dedicate time to tackling challenges head-on. Don’t settle for a safe option. Fight for your ideas, because no one else will. Learn the art of selling your work, because no one else will do it for you. Be resilient. The creative industry can be challenging, but stay resilient in the face of rejection. Transform yourself into a brand and master the art of marketing. Believe in your abilities and let your talent shine.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.