Q&A with Karen Costello, The Martin Agency Chief Creative Officer

Recently we were fortunate enough to have Karen Costello, the current CCO at the Martin Agency, host a Q&A on Fishbowl.  Karen is the first female Chief Creative Officer in the agency’s history.

During her advertising career, she has launched brands, created iconic campaigns, and has been a part of every category in marketing. She believes creativity should be used as a driver to create social change and has been an advocate for more women in leadership roles in the industry.

She is also a powerful speaker, delivering keynotes nationwide on these topics, and we were thrilled to have her share them on Fishbowl:

How can agencies do a better job retaining & growing working parents – esp working moms? 

“This is a really important topic! I agree that you need to find a culture that values working moms (and working parents in general). But it is also important for more agencies to make valuing that a priority. It’s a big reason why so few women are in creative leadership. I agree with the suggestion to talk openly about it at hiring. But when you are already at an agency, here’s what an agency can or should consider doing:

  • Support parent drop off and pick up times and work meetings around those times
  • Don’t factor in weekends as work days on schedules
  • Encourage clients to have less in-person meetings and no Monday meetings that require Sunday travel
  • Be open to flexible hours and working from home days
  • If production travel is essential, find opportunities for families to travel as well
  • For breastfeeding moms, support and fund pumping/sending milk from the road
  • Don’t foster a culture of all-nighters or crazy late hours. There are times when that has to happen, but there is no badge of honor in making that the norm”

What advice would you give to your fellow female creatives who want to become a CCO someday?

“On a personal level, don’t just manage up – be respectful and inclusive with everyone you work with. It’s about being a good human. But additionally, advertising is a small world – your next client or boss could be the person sitting next to you in your next meeting.”

When female creatives are so often outnumbered in the room, how do you recommend we be heard, and eventually lead that room?

“I sure know how you feel about being outnumbered in a room. Here are a few things that have worked for me:

  • Be open with co-workers and teammates about your desire to have a role in meetings and encourage them to make space for you.
  • Creating and fostering client relationships is a good way to create ways to lead a room.
  • Practice your presentation skills!
  • Talk to a mentor or boss about your career and leadership aspirations and lean on them to help create paths to leadership”

What has been your greatest failure and how did you come out on the other side?

“Years ago I worked at a smaller agency. I was a young creative and was working on a motorcycle piece of business. I was in way over my head in both knowledge of the client and product and in my knowledge of production. But I forged ahead without asking for much support and it was kind of a disaster. Like a big one.

I was lucky enough to have a boss at the time who supported me and was able to see that as a learning moment. It was for sure that for me. I have never since been afraid to ask questions or admit what I don’t know since.”

Is there one piece of work you are most proud of? What makes it special?

“I’m super proud of the music video we made live during a commercial break on the Grammys for Target. It had never been done before so it was exhilarating from that perspective. But what I’m most proud of is the client relationship that allowed us to do something so ambitious. The mutually respectful and collaborative relationship we had with our Target clients is something I will be proud of for the entirety of my career. I really do believe ambitious and breakthrough work comes as a result of great relationships not only just great ideas.”


We want to thank Karen Costello for taking the time to share her experiences with the Fishbowl community. See what other wisdom Karen had to share by checking out the rest of her Q&A here.

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