Creative All Star: Kristen Cavallo

Kristen Cavallo

Last year when Kristen Cavallo received many best-of 2018 accolades, these honors were based largely on her potential as the first female creative leader of The Martin Agency. A year later, MediaPost is inducting her as an All Star based on what she has accomplished.

Cavallo is first to admit she never wanted to be a CEO. She was elevated to the position following the sexual harassment-influenced departure of creative chief Joe Alexander, who remains unrepentant and continues to drag the agency into the headlines, most recently by filing a $50 million lawsuit against agency parent IPG in October.

Cavallo has swiftly neutralized any taint of #MeToo by establishing the agency as a Time’s Up Advertising signatory, sponsor of the 3% Conference as well as signee of Free the Bid, a movement mandating more female directors.

So how did Cavallo end up as the first female CEO of creative advertising powerhouse The Martin Agency? By making it her mission to fight for the light in every corner. And doing so with humor and authenticity. She’s the first to joke there are more CEOs named John in the Fortune 500 than all female CEOs combined. 

Cavallo’s journey has followed a non-traditional route that has taken her, similar to all female peers, 50% longer than men to reach the executive suite.

Her staff believes this jagged ladder now enables her to lead with more empathy and understanding. While she may pull long hours, she would never force her team to do the same. Life is best lived outside of agency walls, she proclaims. She seeks to encourage all future leaders of tomorrow to “take the road less travelled and make bold moves every step of the way,” she says.

This isn’t to say she isn’t taking care of business. Cavallo, working in lockstep with Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Growth Officer Michael Chapman, has netted an 80% new business win success rate, a massive transformation from a winless year in 2017 for new business.

While the agency remains best known for its venerable Geico ads, Martin has added accounts with UPS, Virginia Tourism, CarMax, Buffalo Wild Wings, DoorDash and most recently, Twisted Tea, among others under her watch.  

At the same time, Martin’s internal transformation has resulted in a spike of new resumes seeking to join her team. She has eliminated existing gender pay gaps, equalized pay at The Martin Agency as well as ensured gender balance within the agency’s Executive Committee, which now tips the scales at 50% women.

The Martin Agency has introduced more generous family policies, with Cavallo currently investigating Flex-Time program modifications. It may soon become even easier to find employment through Marty, the shop’s exclusive beta-trial-for-working-here-program. The platform invites freelancers to participate on real work with real clients with the opportunity of a job offer. Thus far, Marty has been the jump-off point for some of the agency’s most talented talent, the agency reports.  

Cavallo may not have specifically dreamed of the corner suite as a child, but being the chief boss suits her. Watch out 2020.

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