Perspectives: Women in Advertising: Mandy Arnold, CEO of Gavin Advertising.

We would like to thank Mandy Arnold, CEO of Gavin Advertising for taking the time to participate in this interview series and provide her insights.

By Jeff Finkle 


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?


We have a very collaborative culture that promotes accountability, accepting challenges, and pushing each other to do better tomorrow than we did today. We call this our “We Culture.” We learn and succeed together. Teams and managers are empowered to make decisions. Even junior staff are encouraged to pursue bigger ideas and solutions to advance our agency. My goal is to create a culture where rewards are based on skill and commitment, so I don’t see a difference between male or female staff. We work as a team that is pursuing the goal together, leveraging all of our skills and strengths. When I see a staffer struggling with communications or confidence, we want our leadership team to take the time to mentor our teammate to greater outcomes. To me, it doesn’t matter who it is; what matters is what we help them achieve.

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?


The biggest challenge that I’ve run into is what seems to be a predisposed expectation of how a female should behave or what we should be doing in our career. Often, when I deliver direct feedback or direction, or display an intense goal-oriented approach, I can feel an undertone of backlash for not taking a more submissive, counselor or “motherly” approach. As a female executive and owner of several companies, you have to accept that there are points where some may see you as a bitch. I’m sure many women work very hard to ensure they are always being fair and empathetic, while not compromising expectations for achievements. I know this is a constant conversation in all industries among female executives who are driving real change in business. I think it will just take time and consistent exposure to strong, empowered females in positions of leadership to understand that women can be just as strong willed and direct as men.

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


When I see my team surpass my expectations and take our services to the next level. In growing a business at the rate we’ve (Gavin) grown, you quickly realize nurturing talent is the quickest path to success. The second would be receiving feedback from recruits that our operations and culture outperform and outshine agencies 100+ times our size. It’s been important to me that we build an agency designed for long-term success, capable of scaling while remaining relevant and ahead of the curve. It’s a requirement in fulfilling our mission of proving that Main Street can give Madison Ave. a run for its money.

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?


I’m fortunate to have a husband who is not impressed by me. He grounds me when I’m going a little crazy and calls bullshit when he sees it. We are both business owners, so we also get each other’s deep desire to succeed and the level of hard work it takes to achieve our goals. Other outlets that help me are spin class, good food and drink, relaxing outside and walking around our downtown with my two Old English Bulldogs. I also love booking trips, often. Even quick getaways for long weekends can save your sanity.

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


No specific job, but I’d say growing up in Baltimore City gave me a great bullshit sensor and I got to know people quickly. Being a kid in the city during the 80s, you saw a lot of things that gave you greater perspective. I had to work for everything I had, including putting myself through three college degrees. When you have to work a bit harder for everything you have, you gain a deeper understanding for people and behavior. I truly believe greater business savvy comes from the school of hard knocks, supported by a drive to constantly learn from everything and everyone.

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


I’ve had several direct and sideline mentors in the sense that I’ve paid close attention to people in my life that were doing something right or wrong. I watched them intently and kept mental notes. From watching my mom at an early age hustle to build small businesses and in her sales jobs, to sitting on high profile development authorities watching big shots make the unimaginable deals go through. I’m always trying to get a seat next to someone I can learn from every day.

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?


My hope is to create an agency that values ideas and hard work, provides opportunities for everyone and considers more than the bottom line in its decision making. I intend to push our agency to strive in pushing ourselves out of our own comfort zone to create flexible work environments for families and creating a culture of growth through mentoring others. The main commitment that I’ve made, to myself, is to be open to change and adjustment, but never compromise my ability to lead in a position of power because I let the challenges beat me up. It has been important to me that along the way of building an agency that the next generation of females sees women taking the lead more often and feeling comfortable with the conflict that may come with it.