Keynoting at Minneapolis Student Ad Summit, Scaling the Industry with Kristen Cavallo, CEO Martin Agency and Todd Waterbury, CCO of Target

February 23, 2018

I’ve admired the Minneapolis ad community since I first spoke to their Ad Federation three years ago, and I recently visited again to speak at the Minneapolis Ad Federation’s Student Ad Summit. Minneapolis is a blueprint for what Indianapolis could be: a city made stronger through camaraderie and collaboration. Healthy competition exists there to improve the community, not at its expense.

Years ago, the Minneapolis Ad Federation’s leaders realized they needed a pathway for people looking to break into the ad biz. So they created a junior Ad Fed of sorts that provides resources and education. Their annual peer-led Student Ad Summit draws young talent from all over the Midwest. The day-long conference consists of networking opportunities with local Minneapolis shops, portfolio reviews and keynote speeches. This year, I was one of three keynote speakers for the summit held last week at the University of Minnesota.

The morning started off with Kristen Cavallo, CEO of The Martin Agency, followed by Todd Waterbury, CCO of Target
Jake George and Claire Koory, co-chairs of the event put together a great spectrum of agencies for the summit.

Kristen Cavallo, newly minted CEO of The Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia, kicked off the morning with a presentation highlighting the undercurrent of gender bias in our industry. Her presentation was packed with impressive statistics demonstrating the differences in women’s and men’s career trajectories.

She started by showing one of my favorite pieces done when she was at Mullen. The piece opens in a classroom. Young students are drawing portraits of firefighters, surgeons, and fighter pilots. When their teacher asks for the names of these people, every single student gives male names. Then three living examples of these occupations walk into the room. The children are surprised at first when they see a female surgeon. But the magic happens when the firefighter and fighter pilot take off their helmets, revealing that they too are women. The children (and the room) audibly gasped.

Kristen is no stranger to the pressures of being a woman in the ad business. She shared her own story — explaining how she has managed to thrive in spite of the pressures. She worked for Mullen long distance from Richmond for several years. First, she was in a leadership position in their strategy group, but then she was made President. She telecommuted from Richmond to Boston Monday through Wednesday while taking the agency global and doubling it in size. Through all of that, she was still able to be in the carpool lane to pick up her kids from school. That is impressive not just for a woman, but for anyone.

When The Martin Agency went through the first high-profile sexual harassment scandal in the industry back in December, it wasn’t surprising they called in Kristen to help right the ship. A former employee of The Martin Agency, she knew full well what she was walking into, and she knew many people would see her hiring as a matter of optics. I’ll admit I thought the same thing when I read that The Martin Agency was bringing her on board, but after hearing Kristen speak, I realize her impact goes beyond a PR boost. She has ushered the agency through the worst of it by publically addressing the issue, providing radical transparency and offering to help other agencies going through the same thing. Taking a cue from Uber’s CEO, she uses the hashtag #WatchUsWork on all of the agency’s social media channels. It’s this level of transparency and vulnerability that will propel The Martin Agency to even greater heights.

Next up was Todd Waterbury, Target’s CCO. I was eager to hear him speak — not only because I admire Target’s branding (especially as of late with their new lines) but also because I’m fascinated with the success of their in-house work. These days, more and more agency creatives are migrating to in-house brand shops and thriving on the front lines.

Todd won the room over with beautifully produced videos showcasing Target’s branding integrations with the Grammys and the Nintendo Switch Mario Kart launch. He explained how Target treats its in-store environments temporally and topically. Temporal branding has been on my mind a lot lately — it’s one of the most exciting frontiers of creative innovation. Todd’s graphic design background shone through in the attention to detail in every aesthetic and tonal choice he and his team made.

He ended his presentation with a video about Target’s new Cat and Jack product line. Cat and Jack offers adaptive clothing for children with special needs, and you could see the designers’ passion for helping people as they described the project. The word “authentic” gets bandied about in branding, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen a brand actually be as authentic as Target. Their ethos is inclusion. And they don’t just talk about it. They live it every day.

Todd reaffirmed this by musing on Target’s logo. He projected the inner red circle and said, “Target is a brand about family, a never-ending circle.” Then he added the outer ring saying, “But there’s room for everybody in our circle.” So good.

Following those two was no easy task. But coming from an independent agency off the beaten path, I was able to offer a different perspective. I called my presentation: How to get into the Room: A Blueprint For Navigating Your Career.” The message was a simple one. Throughout your career, there will always be another room you’re trying to get into. How you act in each room determines whether you get into the next room. And the next. There is always another room. The secret for success is making each room (and the work) better for having you in it.

The summit closed out by sending the 200-strong student body off to happy hour at local agencies. Speaking to and meeting students is one of my favorite things about the ECD gig. The energy exchange makes the late nights and travel worth it. I’m grateful to work for an agency that not only sees the value of speaking to students and peers around the country but truly wants to help make a difference in this industry we’ve chosen.

SAS made a compilation video of the day’s events.

I hope I closed the circle Kristen started in the morning. This career isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you love it and live it, you will succeed — no matter what gender you are.