Kerry McCoy will speak with New York advertising executive Madonna Badger, creator of the We Are #WomenNotObjects ad that debuted at Cannes Film Festival and has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.
Badger left the advertising industry for more than a year after a tragic house fire on Christmas morning that claimed the lives of her three young daughters and both her parents. After the tragedy, Badger spent a few months in psychiatric hospitals for manic depression and suicidal ideation.
Badger contacted her college roommate, Kate Askew of Little Rock, for refuge. During that year of recuperation, Badger began healing from the immense pain of losing so many loved ones at once. Assisted by the Askew family, Helen Porter, one of the founders of the Psychiatric Research Institute at the University of Arkansas and Dr. Richard Smith, director of the Institute and Institute staff, Badger recovered enough to return to New York.
Before reestablishing her work routine, she accompanied another friend from Arkansas to an orphanage in Thailand, where she found additional healing through the stories and love of the orphaned girls there.
Badger wrote in Vogue Magazine, “It’s never going to be easy. The pain is just so huge that sometimes it feels like a prison cell. But trying really hard to not feel sorry for myself makes me feel good. Being of service helps the pain to go away, if only for a little while, and giving and receiving love makes me feel good. Basically, I go to wherever the light is, because anything else is darkness, and it can be a deeply black darkness.”
Her tragic, yet inspirational story, her business and her volunteer work and more will be discussed during the hour-long interview.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:07.9] TB: Welcome to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. A production of flagandbanner.com. Stay tuned to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:25.8] KM: Thank you Tim, like Tim said, I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up in your business. Before we start, I want to introduce the people at the table, we have Tim Bowen who is our technician, who will be managing the board and taking your calls today. Say hello Tim.
[0:00:39.0] TB: Hello Tim.
[0:00:43.0] KM: And, recording this show to make a podcast available next week is our technician Jessie, thank you Jessie.
[0:00:47.9] JESSIE: No problem.
[0:00:49.0] KR: If right now, you’re sitting at your computer, you might want to watch us live on Flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page. It’s kind of fun to see what’s fun to see what goes on behind the scenes and to hear the breaks like what I just did just now, we’re also on Instagram live. Both of those, you can find at flagandbanner.com if you search flagandbanner.com on facebook or on Instagram.
This show, Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy began with entrepreneurs in mind. A platform for me, a small business owner and a guest to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way. Our guest today is ripe with experiential knowledge. As with all new endeavors, this show has had some unexpected outcomes like the show has a wide appeal to everyone, not just business owners but everyone because we’re all inspired by everyday people’s American made stories. Another is that behind each of my successful guest is the heart of a teacher. And last, that business in of itself is creative.
The entrepreneur’s vision begins in their mind like a dream and each hard earned action they take is like a brush stroke on canvas building and layering until one day, they have created something they’re proud of. My guest today, Madonna Badger fits all of those labels. She is a creative entrepreneur, founding the Badger and Winters Advertising Agency in New York City and she is a survivor who is teaching us by sharing what she has experienced.
You may have seen Madonna’s TED talk or any number of her interviews with Mat Lauer, Oprah Winfrey and others where she tells her story of a horrific life incident that happened to her Christmas morning 2011 when she woke to a smoke filled room, her house on fire and her three daughters and parents all gone forever. This is a true story of loss, love and recovery that books are made of.
Today, she is more relevant than ever as her company, Badger and Winters redefines women in advertising and business. You will not want to miss Madonna Badger’s interview. If you’re unable to listen and spare the time, a podcast will be made available next week at flagandbanner.com. If you’re just tuning in for the first time, you may be asking yourself, “What’s this lady’s story and why does she have a radio show?” Well, Tim is here to tell you.
[0:03:05.2] TB: Thank you Kerry. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner during the last four decades, the business has grown and changed dramatically, from door to door sales to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales. Now, Flag and Banner relies heavily on the internet including our newest feature, live chatting.
Each decade required a change in sales strategy and procedures. Her business and leadership knowledge grew with time and experience as well as the confidence to branch out in the multimedia marketing that began with our nonprofit, Dreamland Ballroom as well as in our in-house publication, Brave Magazine and this very radio show you’re listening to now.
Each week, on this show, you’ll hear candid conversations between her and her guest about real world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you’ll find interesting and inspiring. What I find encouraging is Kerry’s story that hard work does really pay off. Did you know that for nine years while starting Flag and Banner, she supplemented her income with many part time jobs?
That just goes to show that persistence and perseverance will prevail. Today, Flag and Banner has 10 departments and I have 25 coworkers. Thus, reminding us all that small business really are the fuel of our country’s economic engine and that they empower people’s lives. If you would like to ask Kerry questions or share your story, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[0:04:38.6] KM: Thank you Tim. My guest today is Ms. Madonna Badger, founder of Badger and Winters Advertising Agency in New York City. Madonna was raised in Kentucky, was an excellent student and overachiever. Evident by her successful business in one of the toughest cities in America, New York City. She was living the American dream when a profound tragedy struck that propelled her into overnight fame for an incident so devastating that even though it was in 2011, many of you will remember it.
It was Christmas morning when she woke to a fire in her upstate New York home that claimed the lives of her three daughters, Lilly, Grace and Sarah and the lives of her parents, Lomar and Pauline Johnson. Overnight, Madonna lost everything. Her home, her family, her belongings and her sanity. Today, we are going to hear this resilient woman’s story, how she found solace in Arkansas.
How she healed and helped others by telling her story and how today, she has carved out a new life full of promise. She has remarried and her company has been on the forefront of changing the way we look at women and advertising with her #womennotobjects campaign. That was launched two years at the International Cannes Film Festival and received a standing ovation. Her story is so compelling that she has been interviewed by Mat Lauer, Oprah, Vogue, People magazine and more. I recommend googling Madonna Badger and watching her TED talk and her Women Not Objects on YouTube. The video is great.
It’s shocking and graphic, normally two things I kind of really like but you might not want to have your kids in the room when you watch this. Today, Madonna is championing a change for women in advertising and business. She is a trend setter and advertising and is on the cutting edge. It is a pleasure to welcome to the table an entrepreneur, an inspirational speaker, author, wife, mother, daughter and survivor extraordinaire, Ms. Madonna Badger.
[0:06:35.0] MB: Wow, thank you.
[0:06:36.2] KM: You are so welcome. Thank you so much for coming on. Upon learning you were coming to Little Rock, because you’re from New York and you just flew in to see, I guess my cousin Kate over here.
[0:06:46.0] MB: yes.
[0:06:48.7] KM: I started back to revisit, I met you years ago. I started back to revisit your story and I tell you, my thoughts have been consumed with you. For lots of reasons. You’ve done so much. Your life story is so powerful and so inspiring. Not just your overcoming tragedy from starting your business at 27 out of a shoe box. I think you and I may have stuff in common and growing it into a multimillion dollar company in New York with clients like Calvin Klein, Proctor and Gamble and I read online, you just landed the JC Penny account?
[0:07:23.0] MB: Yes.
[0:07:26.2] KM: All right, I learned from watching your TED talk that as early as age five, you’ve been a survivor, you referred to yourself as a fighter. I want to talk about all that you are, your triumphs, your losses and what you’re doing today but first, we need to start with the incident that catapulted you to national fame on Christmas morning 2011. Can you tell our listeners about that day, in the night leading up.
[0:07:50.8] MB: I had divorced my husband in 2009 and all three of my young girls were very dyslexic and there was a school not far from where I had bought the new house in Stanford Connecticut called WindWord that I wanted my girls to go to, they had been accepted, they were in. I felt like you know, I should do the commute you know? It’s a 30 minute commute.
[0:08:21.9] KM: Instead of your husband?
[0:08:23.2] MB: No, instead of my children.
[0:08:24.3] KM: I see.
[0:08:26.9] MB: I bought this house and you know, there were definitely issues, it took a lot longer than we thought to fix the electrical systems and fix the different parts of the house that were basically old.
[0:08:42.8] KM: It was an old house?
[0:08:45.0] MB: Yeah, it was from the 1800’s.
[0:08:46.0] KM: Really old.
[0:08:49.1] MB: Finally, the house was done basically, a bathtub had to get installed, little things. Obviously, you know, my father who had been the director of safety for Brown Forman for many years and my mother who had owned HVAC electric company that had once belonged to my great uncle and you know, me, we all felt like the house was safe obviously. We wouldn’t be there.
I woke up on Christmas eve in the early morning, it was actually early morning Christmas day after having wrapped presents and all those things and I woke up to smoke in my room and the house was just completely quiet. You know, really dense black smoke, I couldn’t breathe.
It was a Victorian so I was able to crawl out of the window and there were still scaffolding on the outside of the house for a cedar shake which had to go in in the spring. I ran up the scaffolding on the outside of the house to the third floor.
[0:10:05.8] KM: Because you were on the second?
[0:10:07.5] MB: Yes. I was able to open the window but I couldn’t get in. The smoke and the fire was so complete that I couldn’t get in. No matter how much my mind and my heart pushed to get in the window, my physical body wouldn’t let me just go in. I took on enormous amounts of smoke, trying to do it and then finally the fire department came and so they helped me get down while I was screaming at them obviously where to go.
By then, my children were gone, they were probably gone according to the fire investigators, I had to hire because the city took my children and my parents out of the house and then tore my house down and took it to a dump. They ruined all of the physical evidence of the fire. Clearly, something had gone wrong in the fire that was something the city felt that they were to blame.
They took my house down to the size of basically a hole in the ground.
[0:11:26.1] KM: You got down off the ladder.
[0:11:27.8] MB: I got down off the ladder and I was taken into the hospital and basically the next couple of weeks were a blur, a lot of psyche wards, I think I was in three different psychiatric hospitals. Just because they didn’t really know what to do with me and there was no place really for me to go.
I didn’t have a house; I didn’t have anything. You know, I would go to one psyche ward and they would just cry, the doctors would come in and sit with me and cry or the nurses would come in and sit with me and cry.
[0:12:03.8] KM: How did you find that your kids were gone?
[0:12:05.3] MB: They told me that morning in the emergency room and then they just shut me up full of stuff. I mean, I was just screaming like a wild animal for hours and hours and I don’t remember any of it.
[0:12:21.7] KM: When you woke up after being shut up, did it flood back in and they have to keep doing it over and over?
[0:12:30.2] MB: It was the only thing they knew what to do. They didn’t really – I mean, doctors and nurses were crying in my room. The people that are supposed to be helping me are crying over me and how sorry they are.
[0:12:46.2] KM: You had the funeral within five days.
[0:12:48.5] MB: No I didn’t.
[0:12:50.1] KM: I read that online.
[0:12:51.7] MB: Well, so what?
[0:12:54.8] KM: How many days did you had? Was it till you had the funeral?
[0:12:58.7] MB: The funeral was nine days after.
[0:13:02.9] KM: Okay.
[0:13:06.7] MB: Anyway, I went into a final psychiatric hospital in Tennessee and Kate was one of, your cousin Kate, was one of the only people that I could talk to. She and her husband Jess, I could talk to them and I would call them, you know, when it was my turn.
I was like totally isolated after this event in a psyche ward with nobody that I knew just being filled with drugs.
[0:13:35.9] KM: With limited phone calls.
[0:13:37.2] MB: With limited phone calls, limited everything.
[0:13:40.8] KM: You had the funeral, that was all after you had the funeral though, right?
[0:13:44.9] MB: Before and after.
[0:13:47.1] KM: How did you manage to get out and go to the funeral and get dressed and show up?
[0:13:53.3] MB: I don’t have any idea. I think it was just the grace of the divine and the grace of God that put me through that. I don’t know how I gave an eulogy, I don’t know how I was able to function, I don’t know how any of that happened. You know, at one point, the priest told me to first breathe, told me that I couldn’t talk for my children and that wasn’t appropriate and then –
[0:14:25.7] KM: Are you catholic?
[0:14:27.2] MB: I am catholic but we went to an episcopal church where all my children had been baptized. You know, I had him fired by the funeral director and brought on somebody who was incredibly spiritual and I was just being guided by angels. I really don’t know how I did any of that.
[0:14:50.2] KM: Didn’t the priest say something to you about – because you haven’t lost your faith?
[0:14:55.8] MB: No.
[0:14:57.2] KM: Which happens a lot when you go through something like this.
[0:14:59.5] MB: Yes.
[0:15:00.3] KM: How have you managed not to lose your faith?
[0:15:03.4] MB: because the God I believe in is a loving God and so you know, it’s what the priest said at the service which was “God cried first.” You know, it’s not – things don’t happen for a reason, you know? People that say that to me it’s like, look, we got a parking space.
[0:15:24.4] KM: My parking is with me.
[0:15:26.4] MB: Yeah, really? Yeah, I don’t really believe that, I don’t really believe that this is our only life, I think that we are given many lives and I think I’ve known my children through many lives and that our love is incredibly strong. The strongest thing there is. I don’t believe that God is a puppeteer up there sort of saying like you know, “here’s a parking spot, you got into college,” you know?
[0:15:59.2] KM: You’ve been bad, we’re going to burn your children up.
[0:16:01.6] MB: Yeah, you’re poor, you know? Yeah.
[0:16:04.0] KM: No. He’s a loving God and he cried first. I think that’s a beautiful saying. What about the suicide watch? How long did you have to stay on suicide watch?
[0:16:14.9] MB: It was a while, you know? I mean, the first thing Kate said to me when she’d came and pick me up from like the third psychiatric ward was, fourth psychiatric ward was, “Okay look, you can stay here with us but you can’t kill yourself, okay? That’s the deal.” I remember saying like, “Oh yeah, no, of course, I would never do that.” I’m all I’m thinking is like, “That’s a pretty good oven, bet I could get my head in that, you know?”
[0:16:48.8] KM: that’s such an old fashioned way to kill yourself.
[0:16:50.9] MB: It would have been good. I mean, you should see the size of their oven, it would have been a good way.
[0:16:56.7] KM: This is a great place to take a break. I know that you are paralyzed by depression and I know that you came to Little Rock. When we come back, we’re going to pick up with how she got – we’re going to continue our conversation with resilient Madonna Badger, a New York ad executive and entrepreneur, a wife, mother to Grace, Lilly and Sarah and daughter to Lamar and Pauline Johnson. More of Madonna’s triumphs and tragedies to come and we’re going to talk about how she ended up in Arkansas.
In addition, I want to give a shout out and a thank you to our subscribers and advertisers of Flag and Banner’s publication, brave magazine that is hitting your mailbox and newsstands next week. Thank you again to everyone that help make that possible, we won’t be gone very long.
[0:17:35.3] TB: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. If you miss any part of the show or you want to learn more about up in your business. Go to flagandbanner.com. Click radio show or subscribe through YouTube, iTunes, sound cloud or your favorite podcast step, simply by searching flagandbanner.com. Lots of listening options, we’ll be right back.
[0:18:14.1] KM: I told you we wouldn’t be gone long, you’re listening to Up In Your Business with me Kerry McCoy, I’m speaking today with Madonna Badger, founder and ad exec of Badger and Winters Advertising Agency in New York City who’s life changed profoundly on the morning of Christmas 2011 when her home caught fire and took the lives of everyone in her family.
I like to talk about how my entrepreneur people that come on have two phones and are like multitasking the whole time. Well, I want everybody to know that Madonna flipped open her laptop during the commercial or during the break and was going to start sending – I don’t even know what she’s going to start doing, I said, “Come on, you got to get back on the air.”
Before we start talk of – I also want to talk about how Madonna will forever be known as the woman who opened her soul and shared her story of heartbreak and recovery to all of us, she will forever be known as that. But today, she is also known for presenting the Cannes Film Festival. Her innovative social awareness, advertising campaign simply called #womennotobjects and other trendsetting advertising ideas that we are going to talk about all of that today.
But before we do, let’s pick up where we left off, before the break, we were talking about the night your life changed forever and the events that happened right after the fire that took your family. Tell us how you came to spend a year in Little Rock Arkansas?
[0:19:26.8] MB: Kate and Jeff were the people I could talk to and you know, Kate and I had been roommates in college together and she was like the first person on the plane, you know? When everything happened. We had been not close at all really over the years in between. But just close enough, you know? Her daughters intern for me or you know, little things like that but not – we weren’t going on vacation together.
[0:20:00.0] KM: Yeah, intern for you in New York at your ad agency?
[0:20:03.6] MB: Yes. Anyways, I called Kate and I said, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t be in these isolated places and there were so much wrong with it” and so she said, because she was on her way to visit me and she said, “Well, I’m turning around, I’m going to get my pearls on and I’m going to come bust you out of that place.”
I was like, okay, “Sounds good, I’m ready.” I’m like vibrating and so she puts me in the car and we drive from Nashville to Little Rock, I don’t know how. We get here and of course, her friend is Helen Porter and she created the Psychiatric Research Institute at the University of Arkansas here in Little Rock.
Helen and Kate had arranged for me to meet with the person there at the Psychiatric Research and Dr. Richard Smith and that day, it was like, the day before the Super Bowl. I couldn’t believe that somebody was talking to me because usually, at the places where I’d been, they just gave me drugs. He was the first person that said, “this person, meaning me, Is not crazy, she’s just really sad.
You know, needs some love and some care.” He was the first person that didn’t say to me, “you have to do this, you have to do – here’s how long everything’s going to take and you have to understand that and you must do this.” Like a child. He didn’t say that and then he also said, “you know what it’s like when a mother loses her child, it’s like a giant nerve gets severed.
When it’s as tragic and quick as yours. You’ve had three nerves severed basically. As well as the ones that you had to your own parents” which is not as – by my age, you know, hopefully not as intense as that ones obviously with my girls, you know? Because Lilly was nine and Sarah and Grace were twins and they were seven. That sever was just you know, it felt insurmountable but he explained that little by little, skin will grow over it and another little bit of skin will grow over it.
Then you’ll love something else again, maybe – I don’t know what it will be for you and then you’ll be able to experience a little bit of joy” and he like – sat, he made it make sense that this was a huge, long process and you know, if I didn’t, you know, I’m a 27 year recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
If I didn’t pick up a drink, if I didn’t pick up drugs, if I didn’t act out, you know, in any of those ways that little by little, it would get better.
[0:23:29.2] KM: You start going to AA?
[0:23:30.7] MB: I’ve always – well, not really allowed to talk about that.
[0:23:34.5] KM: Well, my husband has been going to AA for a year and he loves it and he loves to talk about it and goes to tell everybody that he thinks everybody should be an alcoholic and get to go to AA, he thinks it’s the best program in the world and that everybody could benefit from it.
When you’re here, you found a support groups, you found a great doctor, you lived with my cousin Kate and she said you’re an honorary member of the family because she calls you her sister and Kate started taking you with her because she’s a rare book collector and she’s actually been on the show, if anybody ever wants to find out who cousin Kate is, go watch her podcast, Played It Twice, it was really good.
You started traveling with her to go, I don’t know, what do you call that, antiquing? What do you call what you do Kate?
[0:24:20.5] MB: Antiquing.
[0:24:21.6] KM: Digging through old stuff.
[0:24:23.7] MB: Picking.
[0:24:24.2] KM: Treasure hunting. There you go. Tell us about how that helped get you thinking and present and in the moment?
[0:24:34.3] MB: Well, you know, it’s hard obviously, suffering, you know, that much loss, suffering so deeply. It’s hard for anyone’s mind to be able to go to something else, right? Other than the suffering. That was truly the case for me, it was very hard but it’s healthy and good to try and you know, watch a movie even though that was a joke, I couldn’t –
[0:25:06.4] KM: Yeah, that seems possible.
[0:25:09.8] MB: Kate had another friend named June Blankenship and June was, she passed away. She was an estate dealer here in Little Rock. She had a few warehouses filled with stuff. I mean, like stuff in bins and boxes and up four Charis high.
[0:25:42.4] KM: A professional hoarder.
[0:25:44.4] MB: Yes, in a way. A professional lover of things shall we say.
[0:25:52.6] KM: Nice things.
[0:25:53.3] MB: Very nice things and fun things and silly things. You know, that kind of stimulation, like when you walk into a warehouse of that many, just like crazy land stuff. It was a place where I could kind of disconnect from my own brain for a little while. What’s in this box you know? You go through and then as I would go through boxes, I would see old dolls that were like from the 1800s or whatever.
I would think, well, the person that owned that doll is dead. Then I would see, you know, something else that was you know, crazy old, well I think, that person’s dead. This person’s gone and this thing is just here and like, what – you know, the idea that it’s also fleeting, the idea that there is no forever and the idea that I could just look at all of these things and kind of go through and look for treasures like you know, whatever.
It was just, you know, laughing and talking and showing one another things and you know, June was just such a big hearted, lovely woman and whenever I found that I liked, she’d say please, keep it, you know? She never gave anybody anything, you know, because it’s her stuff, you know? It was such an honor that she wanted to help me and give me clothes or I mean, not clothes, sorry, give me rugs or you know, whatever.
[0:27:36.4] KM: After a year of being present, digging through these things and making you totally present and words of Eckhart Toll, now, you are right there, you began to decide that you couldn’t do that forever and that you needed to go back to New York.
[0:27:52.0] MB: Yeah, well Kate and I tried to do a sale out in Round Top and you know, Kate did great because she knows what she’s doing and she’s actually like a professional in this field. I thought that it was easy and I would just like, I mean, there was one sofa I had recovered three times because it was never ever quite right to sell it.
Even if I sold it, I would never make my money back on it and PS, I didn’t sell it, I didn’t sell a thing. I was out of pocket. I was so disheartened, it was all over and then Linda Kim who was a creative director who had been with me for years came down.
[0:28:35.0] KM: At your ad agency in New York?
[0:28:36.9] MB: Yeah, came down to Round Top in Texas. She said, you know, “you could always give, coming back a try, you know, we all miss you and we need you” and so anyway, we went to dinner and that night, I looked at everybody and said, I” have an advertising agency in New York City and I think I’m going to go back there. like I think I am going to give it a shot because I am clearly not an antique dealer even though I love you all so much and – “
[0:29:08.2] KM: And before you left, someone took you on a trip to Thailand I think.
[0:29:14.7] MB: Yeah, I took myself on a trip to Thailand and I went to meet young girls there. There was a woman I had met here in Little Rock and she had worked with this organization that helps save young sexually abused or domestic violence or whoever who have been orphaned for a number of reasons in Thailand but mostly just to take them, these young girls out of the sex trade and so it was an orphanage and I said, “Okay I think I want to do that for Christmas I think that would – "
[0:29:56.2] KM: This is your first Christmas.
[0:29:56.9] MB: That was my first Christmas and I was like, “Okay I think I want to do that” and so I ended up going and meeting all of these young women, some of them were 16, some were 12, some were 8, some were two and you know one little girl had lost her entire family in a car accident and she was the only one left. So she lost three siblings and her parents and I was like, “You know what? If these young girls can live and do this and live like basically in a concrete bunker dorm room with nothing and find joy and peace in their lives and be of service in this world I can do it too”.
You know it was just really a huge eye opener to me of the human condition and how I much I wasn’t alone.
[0:30:52.6] KM: So you went back to New York.
[0:30:55.2] MB: I went back to New York.
[0:30:56.5] KM: And you had an episode in the mirror, I think it was in New York City.
[0:30:59.6] MB: No that was in Arkansas.
[0:31:02.0] KM: I think this story is so powerful and then we are going to move on to what you’re doing today.
[0:31:09.3] MB: Okay.
[0:31:09.6] KM: So tell that story.
[0:31:12.2] MB: Well Kate and I had decided that and Jess that maybe our little three’s company idea was like over because I came down the stairs one day, I guess I have woken up a little bit and I was like, “Wow this is kind of weird, right? You guys are married and I am in my pajamas and maybe I should find a place of my own. Let’s give it a shot you know? Maybe I am ready” and then of course, Helen Porter flew into action and found me a house like you could have thrown a baseball from Kate’s house.
And so I moved in there and painted it and then June gave me all the furniture which was amazing and it was my own little place and so as I was cleaning the bathroom, you know how you do before you move in and I was in the bathroom and there was a huge mirror and I started to cry and I looked up into the mirror and I was like, “Wow that woman is in a lot of pain” it was so wild that it was almost like my spirit or my soul and body was looking at my physical body.
It was like, “Whoa she’s in a lot of pain” and my face was just such a huge cry you know? I used to call those level 10’s and then suddenly my children started coming to me and Sarah came to me and Gracie was a little more hesitant but she came and then Lily came to me and then my whole family started coming around me in the mirror, my parents and I could see everybody. Grandparents you know all kinds of people and Sarah said to me:
“There’s nothing to be afraid of mommy and we’re okay. Basically we’re okay and the most important thing is love and by the way, dreams are more real than this life” and I was like, “Okay, oh my God this is really happening” and I had heard them before and I had always been with them before but I hadn’t had such an incredible experience and then I was reading a book called Proof of Heaven by Evan Alexander and in the book he describes those three things.
It was after Sarah had told me the exact same things that there is nothing to be afraid of, love is all that matters and there is a third one. It wasn’t the dream one. The dream one was really from Sarah but there was a third one like basically don’t worry about this, everything is going to be okay and that was when I really knew that I had spoken to them that they were really okay and as a mother, what do we want most in the world but for our children to be okay and so I knew I didn’t have anything to fear and –
[0:34:39.0] KM: It’s a turning point for you?
[0:34:39.8] MB: Big turn. That was one of the major turning points.
[0:34:43.5] KM: All right, when we come back we’re going to come back to New York. We are going to find out what she’s doing today. I am speaking today the resilient Madonna Badger, a New York ad executive, an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother to Grace, Sarah, Lily and a daughter to Lamar and Pauline Johnson. Madonna, though known for her tragedy is more than that. More of Madonna’s triumphs and her successes to come and when we come back, we’re going to take in calls right?
[0:35:12.8] TB: Correct.
[0:35:14.4] KM: More recently, I want to say that Madonna has remarried and at the Cannes Film Festival launched her innovative social awareness advertising campaign simply called #Women Not Objects where she got a standing ovation. So we’ll be right back with the number for calling in.
[0:35:31.8] TB: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you miss any part of this show or want to learn more about Up In Your Business, go to flagandbanner.com, click on “radio show” or you Cannes subscribe through YouTube, iTunes, Sound Cloud just by searching for flagandbanner.com. Lots of listening options, we’ll be right back with the phone number for calling in.
[0:35:54.2] AM: Arkansas Flag and Banner is proud to underwrite Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. McCoy began this broadcast with the intention of offering a mentoring platform for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Through candid conversations and interesting interviews with business and community minded Arkansans, listeners gain insight into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk taking and the commonalities of successful people.
Kerry McCoy, founder and president of Arkansas Flag and Banner, believes in paying knowledge and experience forward and develops this radio show as a means of doing so. The biographies, life experiences and wisdom of her guest would likely go unheard if not for this venue. Rarely do people open up for an hour to an audience about their life in the states, triumphs and pitfalls. This unique radio show allows the listener intimate access into the stories of prominent leaders in our states.
I am Adrianne McNeely, manager of the Arkansas Flag and Banner showroom and gift shop, located on the first floor of the historic Taborian Hall on the corner of 9th and States street in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. In business for 43 years, we offer an old school shopping experience with front door parking, clerks to help you and department store variety. Open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 to 5:30 and Saturday, 10 to 4.
[0:37:22.7] TB: All right, we’re back.
[0:37:23.4] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy and I am speaking today with Madonna Badger, founder and ad exec of Badger and Winters Advertising Agency in New York City whose life was changed perversely when on Christmas day in 2011, a fire took the lives of her entire family. To her dismay at the time, she survived. After a year of suicidal thoughts, depression and the guilt of being alive, Madonna began sharing her story of tragedy, depression and recovery.
More recently, Madonna remarried into Cannes Film Festival launched her innovative social awareness advertising campaign simply called Women Not Objects where she got a standing ovation. All right, we got 20 minutes left and I want to talk about everything you’re doing. You were doing back to New York, how hard was it to get back into business again?
[0:38:14.7] MB: It was very hard. We were lucky enough to have a great client or two that stuck with us but it was very difficult and then it got a lot easier as I just continued to do it. I mean that was something that I have been working basically since I was 15 years old or 14 years old.
[0:38:43.4] KM: I know you started your business out of a shoebox.
[0:38:46.2] MB: Well it was petty cash box and I was 27.
[0:38:49.6] KM: But you knew in high school what you want to do, how do you people know that?
[0:38:52.8] MB: I think that was just like a weird thing that happened like yeah, I mean I don’t know. Yes I did, I think that spirit inside of me knew.
[0:39:02.5] KM: And so at 27 you would move to New York and you started your business and now you are actually going back and doing it again.
[0:39:10.1] MB: Yes around ’75.
[0:39:12.9] KM: Is that the fight in you that you are always talking about?
[0:39:15.2] MB: Yes, I think so. I also think that there’s a lot of dignity in work and there is a lot of integrity in doing what you can do and what you like to do and what you’re good at. What naturally feels right and then the great thing was that I knew I didn’t wanted to sell bottles of cream anymore.
[0:39:39.9] KM: What do you mean?
[0:39:41.5] MB: Well I didn’t want to do just beauty advertising. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to have a voice in changing this industry that I was in which was in many ways harming young children and young girls and boys.
[0:39:59.1] KM: When you say not selling cream anymore is that because you’re leading account was?
[0:40:03.9] MB: Avon.
[0:40:05.4] KM: So that was your number one account.
[0:40:06.7] MB: Yes. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to sell cream. I thought that actually Avon is an incredibly noble client because of how many women it helps to support around the world but it was that I wanted to be a part of a broader service to my industry about how we show and depict women in advertising.
[0:40:37.8] KM: That is extremely risky.
[0:40:38.7] MB: Yes I almost lost my business.
[0:40:41.3] KM: Really, how?
[0:40:44.1] MB: Yeah because all of those beauty clients that I had and had for years fashion clients built up were like, “Yeah, see you. We’re not going to be a part of this”.
[0:40:55.4] KM: So you had this idea that you are going to start this Women Not Object campaign and how did you first launch it or get it out to the public, what is the first thing you did with your idea.
[0:41:08.2] MB: Well the first thing we did honestly was a lot of research to understand what it is that we were going to stand for because there were so many great Jean Kilgore and you know, Jennifer Newsome. There are a lot of amazing people that have already stood up and said no. What was different in my case is that I was in advertising and I have objectified women in the past. So we came up with our own way of knowing what objectification was.
So one is a prop, a women doesn’t have a voice or a choice in an ad. The second one is a part using sort of different kinds of women’s body parts as a way of selling things. The third was plastic so over retouching to beyond the point of human achievability and the fourth which became the most powerful one in many ways was for all of us, men, women, etcetera to use empathy. So what would it feel like if that was my daughter in that ad or my sister or my wife?
So men and women could use the same kind of defining process to know if an ad was somehow making a woman into a thing because that’s really what objectification means.
[0:42:44.1] KM: Weren’t you one of the first to put a straight man in a Calvin Klein underwear?
[0:42:48.4] MB: Yes.
[0:42:48.9] KM: Is that objectifying?
[0:42:49.9] MB: Yes.
[0:42:50.5] KM: So you are not doing that either?
[0:42:51.7] MB: No.
[0:42:52.7] KM: Wow, you’ve come full circle. You were the first woman to put a straight guy in Calvin Klein underwear.
[0:43:01.1] MB: And the difference was with Marky Mark in underwear is that it was a part of his show. So he had his band and pulling down his own jeans was a part of his own show.
[0:43:16.3] KM: So he didn’t have all of these qualifications. He had a voice.
[0:43:19.6] MB: He had a voice.
[0:43:20.7] KM: He wouldn’t over touch.
[0:43:21.4] MB: He was not overly retouched down.
[0:43:23.9] KM: So he only had two of the four.
[0:43:25.5] MB: I mean and even then I think it would be risky to say but yeah, I did that.
[0:43:34.1] KM: So you’ve made the decision, you are going to do it. Is your presentation at the Cannes Film Festival the first time you launched it to the public?
[0:43:44.7] MB: No.
[0:43:45.2] KM: Okay what was your first?
[0:43:46.3] MB: So my first, the first thing we did is that we launched it with a bunch of mommy blogs and we spent five grand just to get the message out and to see how moms reacted to it and that we didn’t want to have it be from an ad agency because we didn’t want the material to be tainted like it was a stunt. You know we wanted it to have anonymous legs. Then it got picked up by everybody, Ashton Kutscher, all of these different celebrities, Alanis Morsette. So now it is really gaining momentum social media wise and then –
[0:44:31.3] KM: And this is your YouTube video.
[0:44:33.3] MB: And then Matt Lauer asked me to come on the show and that’s when you saw this insane spike because I knew him from doing an interview earlier about the fire when I was trying to prove that it was the city that had actually killed my family.
[0:44:53.1] KM: It’s had over two million views.
[0:44:56.8] MB: Yeah that’s – I mean actually if you count all the views on Facebook and everything else, it’s up to around 50 million and it is over a 170 countries.
[0:45:07.3] KM: I think there is 7 billion people in the world and when I did the division on that it was like 5% of the population has looked at it.
[0:45:14.6] MB: Yeah, I mean I had a young woman, I now am a part at Cannes, I am now a part of the See It Be It mentorship program. I am whatever, the chairman of the board, I can’t remember. They gave me some big title but basically, I had a young woman from Pakistan say that Women Not Objects had changed the way that she went to her director who was doing a spot or something and said, “We can’t show a women belly dancing and this ad has nothing to do with anything and let me show you this thing and I’ll tell you why” –
[0:45:48.7] KM: And it worked over there.
[0:45:49.8] MB: And it worked over there.
[0:45:52.0] KM: Wow that’s big. So you’ve launched this YouTube video, you had over two million views. It is now 50 million if you include Facebook and the other social media and then you’ve decided you want to get on the roster at CANNES film festival.
[0:46:08.9] MB: CANNES, so basically I have never been to CANNES before and it is a really big deal for the advertising world. It is the award that anybody in the world wants on their mantel. They want a CANNES Lion and so we found out that we finally got in touch, my business partner Jim finally got in touch with the head person that books talent for the main stage and we flew to London. We pretended like we had business there and we flew to London and said let’s have a drink.
And lo and behold they met us which is unbelievable and we showed them the film and they’re like, “Okay you’re on. You’re on that’s it. You are doing it” I was like, “Okay, cool” and so I gave a 40 minute speech, talk to about three to 4,000 people and every single one of them for the most part are in advertising and that had been my goal. I wanted to speak to the global community in CANNES about what we were doing so –
[0:47:18.7] KM: 40,000 advertisers, advertising companies.
[0:47:22.8] MB: There is probably 100,000 people there. We were definitely the talk of the festival because of the three standing ovations and the fact that this nobody pipsqueak came out of nowhere and just laid it on the line about objectification and then we started a petition to the Cannes Lions for the next year because there were so many horrible ads like your job, our job is to make sure you get the bridesmaids names right that you slept with. Your job is to make it to the church on time.
[0:48:01.5] KM: What?
[0:48:02.0] MB: Yeah, a flower ad on a gold lion. So we petitioned them and you know had a hefty number and they are great. They wanted to make a change and so the Cannes Lions changed the judging so that if an ad was objectifying or stereotyping to either gender it was out. It couldn’t even make it past the jury’s room to make it into the Cannes Lion.
[0:48:33.5] KM: Well do you know now why you lived through that fire?
[0:48:36.1] MB: I mean who’s to say?
[0:48:39.1] KM: I don’t know but boy you are making changes out there aren’t you? So you come back to New York, you lose all your clients and you get new ones.
[0:48:47.6] MB: All new ones, yes.
[0:48:48.7] KM: I read where you had Proctor & Gamble.
[0:48:51.3] MB: Yes, Proctor & Gamble we lead their worldwide diversity advertising. So we created an equality obviously.
[0:49:03.8] KM: Do you have Calvin Klein too?
[0:49:05.0] MB: No. No not my thing.
[0:49:09.0] KM: And I saw were you now have JC Penny.
[0:49:14.8] MB: Yes.
[0:49:15.6] KM: You are going to turn them around?
[0:49:18.9] MB: It takes more than me but that’s the goals.
[0:49:22.6] KM: That’s exciting though. I saw the ad, I watched the ad it was good. I like the look, I like the feel, you kept the music, I like that I think that is their old music. Is that your music too?
[0:49:33.2] MB: New music yeah.
[0:49:34.7] KM: So you’ve had them for a little bit of a while?
[0:49:37.3] MB: It was spring.
[0:49:39.8] KM: Because I recognize that music the minute I heard it. I recognized it.
[0:49:41.0] MB: Well it was recognizable.
[0:49:42.3] KM: Boy it really is, it was an old jingle, wow that was really good.
[0:49:47.5] MB: Yeah, so now it’s Come and Get Your Love by Red Bone and it just had a big uptick. I mean it just had a resurge because of Guardians of the Galaxy.
[0:49:59.4] KM: So what is next for you?
[0:50:01.7] MB: I am going back to Cannes. This year I will be the president of the Glass Lion jury. So the Glass lLon is specifically for work that promotes change and also promotes gender equality so that’s a biggie and I am also part of the See It Be It program. I’ve just won an honor as part of the advertising people who have made a change in diversity and equality and so that’s happening I think in July. So there’s a lot going on, a lot of good business coming in.
[0:50:44.5] KM: I want to tell everybody that we are talking to Madonna Badger of Badger and Winters Advertising Agency in New York City. She is a survivor and an entrepreneur and she’s a great story and if you didn’t get to hear the whole show, you need to go to flagandbanner.com and listen to the podcast. It will be made available next week. So your mother was an entrepreneur, you are an entrepreneur. Any advice for our female entrepreneurs out there? You’ve probably got advice on everything.
[0:51:06.0] MB: Yeah, I mean for me I think my latest advice is be an agent of change that if you’re a woman or a man, quite frankly anybody, be that agent of change if you don’t see – if something is happening in your organization or something is happening in the company you work in whether you are entrepreneur or part of a bigger company, stand up and be an agent of change. Make a difference because that is the only way it’s going to change and don’t blame anybody along the way.
[0:51:46.7] KM: That’s what’s so unique about you. You went through all of that, you don’t blame God. You don’t blame anybody and I know trying to get over the guilt and the shame of being left alive, you could blame yourself and you don’t do that either.
[0:51:59.1] MB: Oh yeah I do.
[0:52:00.1] KM: No, that’s the hard thing.
[0:52:03.8] MB: Yeah, that’s the hardest one.
[0:52:04.6] KM: So you are definitely a champion of change. You got the New York fire codes and inspection codes changed after what happened to you.
[0:52:13.5] MB: Yeah the Connecticut ones in Connecticut.
[0:52:15.4] KM: Connecticut, you got advertising changed through your Women Not Object’s campaign. Your daughters were both dyslexic which I am a proud dyslexic person and you are ex-husband who started a campaign or fund for them, what’s it called?
[0:52:35.7] MB: Lily Sarah and Grace Fund. He died last year.
[0:52:38.0] KM: Oh I’m sorry and is it still going on?
[0:52:40.7] MB: Oh yeah, Lily Sarah and Grace Fund and what it does is it helps teachers to recognize the signs of dyslexia and also helps to teach dyslexic children more about what they are capable of instead of what they’re not capable of.
[0:52:55.0] KM: You know that was a problem in school for me. You were defined by your grades and if you couldn’t make grades I had this feeling of hopelessness all the time because no matter how hard you tried you won’t be able to do it and I think that that’s a great cause. There’s a lot of people that had some sort of reading or learning disability and that usually means you excel at other things like look at me, I have the gift of gab.
[0:53:21.4] MB: Right, well it is like telling women that we aren’t confident enough and so it makes us broken when really what if the measure by which we measure confidence what if that’s the broken part? What if that’s the part that is like all about A plus alpha males being arrogant and overwhelming or even A plus women, confident women who we have a whole set of attributes like high vein and things of that nature, what if those are what’s broken?
So what if instead of fixing the people, fixing the women, fixing the children, what if we fix the system so that the system doesn’t become the thing that measures everyone’s ability as oppose to measuring what is their disability.
[0:54:20.6] KM: I have never thought about that. It’s a deep thought. So you can’t help but you’re going to have a legacy. What do you think it would be? What do you want it to be?
[0:54:28.0] MB: Lily Sarah and Grace.
[0:54:29.3] KM: Oh that’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show. You are just – I’m telling you I’ve been consumed with reading about you. I just loved reading about you, you are just an inspiration to everybody how love is full of recovery and Tim for handing me your gift for coming on the show and it’s a desk set for you to take back to your office since you are an entrepreneur woman.
[0:54:53.0] MB: Oh my god I love it.
[0:54:56.4] KM: In your kit, it’s the US flag in the center, your desk set and then there’s Arkansas because we were important to you and where you’re born, Kentucky and of course, New York City.
[0:55:04.9] MB: Oh my God, I love it.
[0:55:07.0] KM: Well thank you very much.
[0:55:08.6] MB: Thank you.
[0:55:09.7] KM: I bet you don’t have that, you are a woman who has everything but you don’t have that I bet.
[0:55:12.0] MB: I don’t have that.
[0:55:13.7] KM: Thank you Madonna.
[0:55:15.5] MB: Thank you.
[0:55:16.4] KM: Who is our guest next week Tim?
[0:55:17.6] TB: Next week is going to be Warwick Sabin which we said last week you would be the guest next week but he’s been kind enough to let us postpone him until this coming week. He is going to be running for mayor, a current Arkansas House of Representative member and writing for Oxford American Magazine.
[0:55:37.2] KM: Yeah, he’s an entrepreneur and now he’s entrepreneur turned politician I guess you would say and he’s an interesting guy. He’s got a lot to say. It will be fun to talk with him. So if you have a great entrepreneurial story that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio or your contact info to
[0:55:56.0] TB: email@example.com.
[0:55:58.4] KM: and that’s questions with an S and finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you are right but it’s also been for me. Thank you for letting me fulfil my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up In Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:56:35.1] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. All interviews are recorded and posted online with links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show. Subscribe to her weekly podcast to wherever you like to listen. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.