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Transgender founder builds 6-figure agency during COVID

Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg, Australia's first openly transgender woman to own a public relations and advertising agency, believes that being an outsider with her narrative to share has given her an edge in a competitive, noisy, and crowded profession.

Joan's focus has been on choosing technology clients that reflect her values and a sense of authenticity driven by her identity since launching Studio Self in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Building on her ten-year background in startups and technology firms, her creative campaigns have won international awards.

Studio Self has made a six-figures in less than six months as a result of this method.

Joan saw starting her own business as a way of putting her stake in the ground in the face of hardship.

"Starting my own advertising and creative studio was one of the biggest risks I've ever taken. The data shows that 0.1% of creative agencies worldwide are owned and operated by women, and the number of firms run by transgender women globally is less than 5."

"I wanted to prove that who I was didn't limit what I do – and that in fact, it informs, guides and shapes it in a way that other founders could never reach. The way I tell stories, and the stories I choose to tell are directly influenced by my unique perspective, and the people I work with love and embrace that."

Despite a successful career in startups, her transition and coming out was a difficult and often confronting experience.

"In the space of six months, I went from being headhunted by tech firms to not being able to get an interview at a dog food subscription startup, and the reasons I was suddenly being given were that I wasn't a culture fit, or that I didn't have enough experience."

Joan decided to go it alone, forming a company that would allow her to stick to her idea of keeping small and focusing on her craft while also allowing her to pick and choose which projects she wanted to work on.

Finch,, YouPay, and D&I influencer Aubrey Blanche are among Studio Self's clients who have garnered press coverage from publications ranging from The AFR to Channel 7 to The Australian to Smart Company, demonstrating the agency's devotion to who they are and what they do.

Working with Self has provided Studio Mod's COO, Mish Sparks, an opportunity to grow and tell his company's story.

“Joan’s work with us through Studio Self was creative, effective and impactful. Working on a short timeframe and a tight deadline, she was able to weave an engaging narrative around our work, including coverage in The Australian.”

Studio Self is primarily focused on helping technology-enabled brands communicate with human audiences in a way that is accessible and empathetic.

About Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.

Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.

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