New MullenLowe CEO Kristen Cavallo on the Agency’s Future – IGWIIKI

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Kristen Cavallo, the CEO of The Martin Agency, has gained a new title at Interpublic Group with her promotion to global CEO of MullenLowe Group.

Cavallo will continue in her role as CEO of The Martin Agency, while Alex Leikikh, chairman of MullenLowe Group, has been named executive vice president of Interpublic where he will oversee several of IPG’s U.S.-based creative agencies.

Cavallo was elevated after showing long-term success at The Martin Agency. She joined as CEO in December 2017 after stepping down as president of MullenLowe’s Boston office in 2015. She helped to revitalize the agency’s culture and direction, and Adweek named The Martin Agency back-to-back U.S. Agency of the Year in 2020 and 2021 due to its work with longtime clients Geico and Old Navy. Cavallo started her career at Mullen in 1994.

Adweek spoke with Cavallo about the future of MullenLowe.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: Why now as the time to make this leap?
Kristen Cavallo: I’ve been openly contemplating what I wanted to do…and happily came to the conclusion that I really like advertising for a lot of reasons; I love solving problems with creativity. I love the people that are in this industry. I think that we have the opportunity for bigger impact in terms of breaking stereotypes and changing the way we view different people and different situations, different lifestyles and I have the freedom to speak my mind, which I wouldn’t always have in another position.

How do you view MullenLowe’s position in the market right now? 
I have a lot of heart for Mullen, and I’ve been there twice and been at Martin twice—it is both those agencies that made me who I am. I was there working under Jim Mullen when I first started, and I’ve always believed that the agency had an entrepreneurial and challenger spirit. It was one of the most liberating places I ever worked. As we’ve grown and developed a lot of other agencies throughout the Mullen network globally, there’s an opportunity to strengthen that narrative and the connective tissue that brings all those offices together under that common name.

Will there be any sharing of resources between the two agencies as you oversee both?
My hope is to keep them distinct and to allow them to be their best selves. They have different positionings in the market. However, they both have some underpinnings that are the same. Both of the agencies were started by people who questioned whether an agency could have validity and impact from a market outside of Madison Avenue, and have had to work extremely hard to build a brand that clients would journey out of their way to get to. There are certainly character similarities between the two agencies but my hope is that they remain distinct brands.

How do you plan to sharpen MullenLowe’s perception in the marketplace and show clients what the agency has to offer? 
When I was at Mullen last time, it was about being the challenger brand. As Mullen grew to encompass Lowe, the potential for that narrative got watered down. We have to find a new narrative that brings forth the best of our DNA from the past of both brands—Lowe and Mullen—that ties to what is relevant today. There’s a lot of very positive things to work with. People today have expectations that brands take a stand on issues, and MullenLowe has equity in building those brands.

What does a successful first 12 months look like at MullenLowe?
Growth and clarity. Clarity of mission and growth in terms of new business or organic growth. Growth is your shield and gives you the ability to make choices. It gives you the ability to walk away from things that you’re not aligned with from a value standpoint. It gives you the ability to negotiate better on your behalf and gives you the ability to get a seat at the table where you are listened to as a strategic partner and valued for the insight that you bring. 

That’s a muscle that all agencies need in order for clients to get the maximum benefit out of their agency. There has to be some sense of confidence and confidence often comes from growth and validation.

How do you view the CEO role differently at an agency of MullenLowe’s size?
I have a lot of trust in the people around me. I’ll need to get in and assess who those players are at MullenLowe and if they’re in the right roles. When I came into Martin five years ago, I kept a lot of the same people who were in the leadership but changed almost every one of the roles.

There’s really great talent, I just need to make sure they’re all playing at their highest potential in the role that they’re in. By doing that, I’ll be able to have an impact without micromanaging. That’s not my style.

Why did you decide to take this role?
IPG had a lot of people that would have been very interested in this role. I felt like there were a few people who would love these two brands as much as I would love them. Sometimes that loyalty and that care about the companies we run really matters and it pays off and at a time when we see a lot of people switching agencies and taking over places that they don’t necessarily have any ties to. This decision hopefully points to the benefits of loyalty but also to the belief that genuinely caring about the companies you run will pay dividends. I was really happy that IPG was open to considering it.

How did the new role develop?
I’ve been very transparent with IPG as well as with Martin. I told people at Martin when I got here five years ago that I’d probably stay five years. So everyone knew that when my kids left home, I could begin to ask the question of what do I want to do? I considered politics, philanthropy, client side, startups and consulting. After interviewing people about their careers, everything led me back to advertising.

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