Women in Advertising: Mary Nittolo, CCO/President, The STUDIO

In honor of International Women’s Day, AdForum is showcasing the achievements of women in advertising in the month of March through a series of interviews.

by Jeff Finkle , Adforum

Mary Nittolo
President the STUDIO, New York

Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Mary Nittolo, CCO/President, The STUDIO


AdForum: How would you describe the current overall culture at your agency? How would you describe the culture among your female colleagues and what are the differences?

As the Company Founder, it’s my obligation to set the tone for the company. I am the Creative Director and New Business Lead at the STUDIO, which celebrates 29 years in 2017, so I have made deliberate choices about the culture, the creative direction, and the relationships we seek with clients. What’s more, I founded the company on the ethos of studios as they have existed at least since the Renaissance: hence, camaraderie - collaboration- trust- respect- innovation and nurturing talent were always part of the culture. Our team is staff-based, diverse in background, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disciplines, styles-- they challenge each other and me. And I’m constantly delighted that great ideas can come from anyone in the company.


AdForum: What do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling” into Sr. Executive level positions? What are some of the challenges that still exist for women in reaching the upper echelon of management?


This poem by Emily Dickinson has been in my mind forever:


I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you -- Nobody -- Too?

Then there's a pair of us!

Don't tell! they'd banish  -- you know!

For many years, this was the modus operandi for so many women in advertising. A few warriors rose to the top, but mostly, women adhered to creating astonishing, compelling, moving, and thought-provoking work by staying in the shadows.


Their resiliency, belief in the idea, and passion for their craft led to a continuous stream of excellent work, even though they would never be properly credited or valued due to unconscious bias that they couldn’t correct. Their passion for their craft led to a continuous stream of excellent work.


Some recent high profile hires in both creative and production reinforce the fact that there is now political will around women in leadership positions, and we may have reached a tipping point to correct this past. But you cannot change cultures by a few great hires. The biggest challenge will be keeping agencies committed.



AdForum: What do you consider the biggest personal achievement in your career that still fills you with the most pride?


I am proud of staying relevant for 28+ years in a business that is constantly evolving and proud to be a job creator---providing meaningful work for creative people.


AdForum: How do you find the best work-life balance to help you stay productive and creative at work and to help you live a happy, sane life outside of the office?

When you are in a creative business and constantly working, everything around your work and life will meld together. If you love what you do, work-life balance is almost a non-question. If you work hard, care deeply about the quality of your work and the people you do it with, these worlds start to collide in a very good way. Every museum visit, play or film you see, every piece of street art, fashion, music you see, hear, and feel could inform everything you subsequently do. You make friends with the brilliant folks that start out as clients. You bring your children to work because you’re working a lot. My youngest was booking my travel when she was 9; she got really good at it. An interesting aside is that neither of my daughters chose to go into Advertising. And dogs….I’ve taken mine to work every day for 20 years….it really helps….


AdForum: Was there a job you had at one point, outside of advertising, that prepared you most for success later in life?

At 13, I was a summer camp counselor at the local public school and found myself supervising kids older than myself. I was a skinny, bookish kid, but came from a very tough neighborhood. I learned to listen- act calm- be nice but not be a pushover. Nothing has ever been so hard…

AdForum: Can you reflect on a mentor that helped guide you in your career and tell us what made them special?

Because I don’t have a traditional business background, I was never actually mentored until I took a business program at Columbia in 2009. The facilitator was Barbara Roberts, who has been a serial entrepreneur and actually coined the term “glass ceiling” in a Wall Street Journal interview after leaving her job as one the first female executives on Wall Street. Barbara taught me how to apply my critical thinking skills to business and to turn those skills into process. She also “taught’ me something I’m still learning- take out the emotion (not the feelings), when making big decisions.

AdForum: How do you as a successful woman in your industry plan to inspire the next generation of women? In a few words, what advice do you have for women entering the advertising industry?

I have a lot to say here so a few words won’t work:

Stay vigilant. One thing that scares me with younger women is that they are so used to being the overachievers in academia that when they get to work, they don’t notice the unconscious bias until it’s sometimes too late- and then they are in defense mode.

Speak about bias in business terms - not in terms of fairness or equality. You can’t have innovation without diversity- and that’s diversity of gender, race, nationality, geography, education, sexuality, and economic background.

Be a sponsor, a champion, an advocate and a friend.

Trust your intuition.


Tell us your perspective as a woman in advertising



Mary Nittolo
President the STUDIO, New York