Women in Business Q&A: Linda Mummiani and Caitlin Ewing, Executive Creative Directors at GREY NY

Perhaps it was destiny that Linda would come to be a creative director. Raised in an artistic collaboration between her parents, a French fashion designer and an Italian Pastry Chef, she was exposed to line, drama, precision and movement before she could hold a crayon.

When Linda started her career at McCann Erickson as junior art director on L'Oreal she was immediately allowed to enter the inner sanctum of the great photographer Irving Penn. One of her collaborations with Mr. Penn was once shown in the Museum of Modern Art -- "just another day at the office, right?" In fact, the notori- ously private Penn rarely ever permitted an agency creative in his presence when working. Her beauty expertise landed her a 2 year stint working on Olay - where she brought her love of beauty to skincare.

SInce joining Grey in 1991, Linda has worked her beauty magic on a variety of image driven brands.

Caitlin Ewing grabbed the world by the scissors and started a fashion bodysuit business. Donna Karan took the meeting. So did QVC, Saks Fifth Avenue and Fruit of the Loom. In two years, she had 150 accounts worldwide.

When The Limited came calling with arms full of copywriting and marketing, she made the jump back into fashion. Suddenly her words made things fly off the shelves. She could move t-shirts with word play; sell key items like hot cakes. She worked on everything from new store concepts to CRM strategies. But when her mentor moved to McCann Erickson and the L'Oreal account, beauty came back with a vengeance called Associate Creative Director.

Cut back across the beauty aisle, and she did a 13-year stint as Creative Director of Pantene at Grey New York.

How has your life experience made you the leaders you are today?
LINDA: I grew up in an environment where nothing was taken for granted. My Dad was a pastry chef, youngest of 8 kids---started working at 12 years old---worked very hard every day until the day he died. Blue collar worker but had a skill that he perfected and was very proud of. His work gave him personal worth. My Mom taught me to value what every person brings to the table. Big and small contributions. Those were my role models. I was the first in my family to go and graduate from college. I was never afraid of hard work. Never afraid to get back up after being knocked down. I guess I'm plucky.

CAITLIN: I will love calling my childhood a "creative anarchy"--which included a commune in Puerto Rico and building a house in the Catskill woods with a bunch of hippies. No structure? No electricity? No plumbing? No problem. I've been making it up as I go along pretty much my whole life. I guess one of the biggest lessons I've learned from a life of improv is the power of "yes." Yes to change. Yes to adventure. Yes to different.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenures at Grey NY?
LINDA: I worked in several agencies before Grey and certainly getting a taste for how different organizations run is always helpful when navigating any corporate environment. I started my career working on an account which used Irving Penn as their photographer. I was lucky enough to spend many days working directly with this master of his craft. And THAT undoubtedly consistently helped my creative development. He taught me how to see. How to create a vision. How to make the ordinary extraordinary. And his work ethic was uncompromised. He treated everyone with respect and grace. I try to be that way.

CAITLIN: I never set out to be in advertising. I had a clothing business, wrote for magazines, worked in marketing. Then my mentor jumped to an ad agency and--lucky for me--I was able to follow him. I think my experience...and my nature...means I look at every assignment like an entrepreneur. I enjoy solving problems--creative problems as much as business problems. I think finding challenge and change in every day makes life and work more interesting.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenures at Grey NY?
LINDA: The experience of watching our Creative Chief Tor Myrhen's management style when he first took over at Grey was a real highlight for me. He'd been at Grey only about a month when he faced making an unpopular and demoralizing announcement to the creative folks: we were all losing our offices and moving to an open space plan on the second floor in our old building. But rather make some dry proclamation, he shot a music video, sang our pain in falsetto voice, and generally made us all feel like we had not only a true creative leader, but a champion. It was a cultural turning point for the whole agency. Surviving 23 years in advertising is challenging enough! But through it all, Grey has also been changing. I've been through more management shake ups than you can shake a stick at. So I guess that's a highlight and a challenge.

CAITLIN: The good times are by definition pretty amazing. But I think the emotional roller coaster of the business is one of the biggest overall challenges. Creative ideas live one minute and you feel like you're standing on top of a mountain and then the next minute, the next meeting, they die and you come crashing back down. And learning to cope with the highs and lows is the hardest part. Because the nature of the business is to wake up the next morning and make it up all over again.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in advertising?
LINDA: Be ready to work hard. Think every day. And don't limit yourselves. Really "go for it." Constantly reinvent.

CAITLIN: Bring your uniqueness to the table. That weird idea? Don't edit it. But always remember this isn't creative play time: this is creative problem solving. That image of creative people playing ping-pong all the time is incredibly annoying. It's harder than it looks. (But we do occasionally throw things at each other.)

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your careers to date?
LINDA: Try not to need constant validation. Know your worth. Constantly up your game and compete with yourself.

CAITLIN: Linda said all the good stuff, so I will just say: have a friend in your partner. Just like life, you need someone you can trust. To celebrate. To commiserate. And someone who will be there the next morning when you have to come in and reinvent it all...again.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
LINDA: It's not easy, but I have a terrific support system at home. My husband has been a tremendous stay at home Dad. Also, let go of perfection. Be open to different ways of getting things done.

CAITLIN: The question assumes I've figured that out! I think every day, every stage of my kids' lives, it's a different game. Balance today as much as you can. And if you can't, there's always tomorrow.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
LINDA: Self validation. Not feeling like you need someone else's approval. And obviously balancing childrearing and work. It's tough to take the kinds of risks necessary to succeed in this business when you are busy worrying about how it will affect your babies.

CAITLIN: Modesty. I think men are better at tooting their own horns--even when they might not be toot-worthy. In my experience, women tend to do the work and not stop to take the credit.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal lives?
LINDA: When I was young I had a terrific female role model. She led the PR department over at McCann. I always remember how she encouraged me. I have tried to do the same with the young people who have worked for me. Young women are really looking for someone to look up to. Someone who has "done it" (raised happy healthy kids and thrived for many years in this business). I think it makes them breathe a sigh of relief to see that it IS possible.

CAITLIN: Without a mentor, my career in advertising might never have happened -- so that clearly made a world of difference to me. But beyond that, I think a mentor can see in your strengths and talents that you don't yet see in yourself. And that faith makes you bolder. And frankly, it's a pleasure to pass that on.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
LINDA: We are lucky now to have so many great women to look up to. Hillary Clinton is my number one. She has taken on so much as a woman both professionally and personally. She has proven to me that nothing is ever perfect, but vision and fortitude go a long way. Closer to home, Debby Reiner, a Partner in our organization is also a woman I admire. She is tough and as smart as they come. But she maintains humanity and a sense of humor. She's a lady who really knows how to multitask.

CAITLIN: From the moment I started at Grey, I was inspired by Alice Ericsson, EVP Executive Creative Director. If I had to say it in one word, I would say her style is "effortless." From how she manages people to her own willingness to roll up her sleeves, she seems authentically comfortable and human in her leadership. Making the truly hard look and feel easy is an Olympic-level feat--one she accomplishes daily. As a mentor, she's forever saying "well, why not you?" As if your success is her success. Closer to home, there is a woman in my community named Pam Koner whose charity "Family-to-Family" is really reinventing giving. She connects people. She's creative. By her nature, Pam takes a complicated problem and makes it doable. She's solution oriented. And the amount of good she does is staggering.

What do you want Grey NY to accomplish in the next year?
LINDA: I hope that Grey continues to take on "world changing projects" like our unload your 401K campaign. We all work so hard at our "day" jobs in advertising, that it is so inspiring to know our skills really can be applied to making the world a better place. It motivates me personally to do more when I see all the effort and creativity voluntarily being put toward the greater good. And I think it goes a long way in reducing the general cynicism people have toward this industry.

CAITLIN: I couldn't have said it better.