Elena Rivera-Cheek is the chief creative officer and founder of Copy & Art, an advertising agency in White Plains. If you ask, she will happily share her backstory. Her parents are from Puerto Rico, and she was born in the Bronx. Her firm’s clients include some of the heaviest hitters in the local and regional heathcare industry, including Northwell Health, Phelps Hospital, Regeneron, Staten Island University Hospital, and Maimonides Medical Center. She has forged a successful career in an industry not traditionally known for its diversity, but she does not want that to define her. “The most interesting thing about me is not that my skin is brown or that I’m a woman,” she insists. “It’s that over the last 10 years, I’ve built this amazing advertising agency.”
After earning my MBA, I worked for the largest healthcare ad agencies in New York, and I loved it. I was never going to sell lipstick, but it was medicine, communicating the pharmacoeconomic value of a drug, that intrigued me. When I had my first child, however, I did not feel supported by my firm. But a woman should not have to choose between a family and a career. I eventually decided that starting my own agency was the only answer. It wasn’t a strategic, money-making decision; it was based on my desire to be both a mom and a career-driven woman. [Rivera-Cheek now has three children.]
I will always treasure the people helping me achieve my vision of a different kind of agency. There are lots of shops that talk about a culture of diversity. But it’s just talk, as opposed to being an agency that is truly diverse, that cares about employees and pays them as much as possible. Corporate teaches you to pay as little as possible — how backward! Why not give them everything you can and see where that leads? We prioritize people, which in turn leads to exceptional client service and creative.
We don’t have to strategize about diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives because we are diverse by nature — just look at us. Am I intentional about recruiting people who have been historically overlooked in this industry? People who are incredibly smart, creative, and driven? Yes. Honestly, there are very few individuals who do what I do who look like me. And there are times when people speak to other members of my company, thinking they are [running it]. But I’m not mad about it. It’s made me dedicated to expanding opportunity. We have a lot of women in leadership roles, a lot of diverse leaders. This equates to a diversity of ideas, which differentiates us.
Our clients have target demographics, but they don’t want to take money only from those who look like just one person. They want to attract and engage the entire population in their demographic and our agency reflects that. They know that their creatives live, play, eat, and sleep in the county they are trying to influence. We can speak to an audience better when we understand them. It’s hard to say you understand a demographic when you don’t know anybody who looks like them, when you don’t hang out in their neighborhoods, don’t eat in their restaurants. People can see through that now.
The year 2021 was our highest revenue year yet. We are moving to a larger office and hiring more staff. The key to our success is my tenacity and that I am never going to give up, so Westchester can expect to see more of me and my team. My hope is that they’ll see something in us that they see in themselves, like a passion for the work. They will discover that we are more alike than different. We all want the same things — success, a great life. My goal is that we all win. Let’s all win.