Courtney Caggiano Nunley, Boston-Based Advertising Vice President (and Mad Men devotee)
For anyone who has ever decided to take the plunge and attend college out of state – way out of state – in order to experience new climes, Courtney Caggiano Nunley can relate. She grew up in Boston, but in search of “a change of pace and a suntan” attended the University of Miami – then came straight back to her beloved city, close friends and family, and has never left.
She is now a Vice President and Marketing Director at Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based global advertising agency that is part of the Havas holding group in France. Nunley is a fervent true believer in the advertising biz, marveling at how “brands make a statement” and “have a story to tell,” and says she never missed an episode of Mad Men during its run.
She credits her Italian/Irish background and eclectic group of friends for her love of “difference” and seeing lots of viewpoints; is a wife and mother; a fan of female intuition (read more about that below) and the Daily Show. She is a great example of someone who found her calling early, and has happily stuck with it, now going to work each day at a powerhouse company – while being very much intrigued by the psychological and emotional components of the advertising trade.
Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure thing – born and breed in a small town about twelve miles north of Boston. Left New England for warmer weather during college, but missed the orange leaves and snow too much, so I came racing back to this area after college.
I’ve spent the last ten+ years in the advertising industry, starting out at a smaller shop, going “client-side” for a bit, and now spending the last half of my career at Arnold Worldwide.
I met my Texas-native husband Nathan at a bar on Cape Cod (a way of meeting that my team tells me is now considered “old school”!), and we welcomed a funny, inquisitive, and smiley baby girl named Bryce into our world in April 2014. We bought a house in the town I grew up in, where we’re lucky enough to live right down the street from very close family and friends.
What does a day in your shoes typically look like?
Wake up, try to fit in a work out, get my daughter ready for daycare (and hopefully sneak in some time to play with her), drive to the client or take the train, lots and lots of meetings, come home, make dinner for my daughter, get her to bed with hopefully some playtime, do some email/check-in, catch last night’s Daily Show, tea, and bed!
What is your favorite leisure activity after a stressful work week?
A walk with my husband, followed by wine.
What are the first three things you do when you wake up in the morning, and the last three things you do before you go to bed?
Morning: Hit the snooze button for five more minutes, wash my face, drink hot water with lemon and/or coffee (I’ll have a lot more coffee throughout the day!).
Evening: Wash my face, check on my daughter, count the things I’m grateful for in my head, and send good thoughts to the people I care about who may not be in great circumstances.
What is your breakfast of choice?
I’m a big fan of breakfast and never miss it; I have either Bob Red Mill’s oatmeal or a spinach/egg /avocado pot.
What keeps you energized and motivated at work?
The insights and the ideas – I love a great brainstorming session!
What and who inspires your work?
So, so many people. There are the obvious ones: the leaders of our country and of movements who paved the way for us in the past. Then there are industry giants like Mary Wells Lawrence [a hugely influential advertising executive who was the first female CEO listed on the New York Stock Exchange].
But really, for me, it’s the people around me: my team, who always bring a positive attitude and will work tirelessly; the clients who believe in their products; the consumers who are just trying to make their lives better little by little; my husband, who is the hardest-working person I know; and my daughter, who I hope is proud of me when she’s old enough to understand.
How many times have you changed your career direction?
I’ve changed companies a few times, but I’m actually one of those rare advertising types who majored in it, chose my direction (account management) right out of college, and has stuck with it thus far. Who knows what’s down the line for me — but I’m happy where I am right now.
What made you decide to get into advertising?
Likely seeing Angela Bowyer on Who’s the Boss – I’ve been passionate about it for as long as I can remember. The idea that a consumer can fall in love with a brand, and be ignited to act is just so interesting to me. Products are mirrors to consumer behavior.
Did you watch Mad Men? How much could you relate to the series and the advertising industry?
I watched every episode. Obviously the industry is a lot different in terms of the structure and how women are treated, but there are a lot of similarities too.
How has the industry evolved since you started?
To put it simply, when I started, Facebook wasn’t in all colleges and universities yet, and the iPhone hadn’t even been invented. So A LOT. But also not a lot – the industry has always been about evolution, new channels, and new ways of building deeper relationships with consumers. Digital technology was just the topic for this chapter of the industry.
What are some of the new innovative products/for brands to better reach and engage with customers that you’re most excited about?
I just love the embrace of beautiful content and stories to show how brands actually do stand for more than their products, they make a statement. People are spending money to produce and bring to life real stories to show how they connect with consumers – Honeymaid did that most recently, with their famous “Wholesome” ad, and it is just beautiful. All brands have a story to tell and something they stand for.
What has been your biggest obstacle in your career, and how did you overcome it?
This may sound like a cop-out, but it has been managing “work life after baby.” This is a struggle any parent deals with, and it can be especially difficult on the mom. There are days that feel overwhelming, and there are days that are just plain awesome. I just try to do what I can to feel like I’ve done the best I could, in the moment, every day — and go with that.
Three questions you like to ask during an interview to know if the candidate (or job) is the right fit?
- “Why do you really like advertising?”
- “When you fall asleep at night happy with the work day you had, what happened?” (I’m looking here for whether they’ll say ‘we had a great brainstorming session that brought out this killer plan,’ or ‘I got a free burrito.’ Obviously, both good days, but it’ll help be understand who I’m dealing with.)
- “Your favorite campaign and why” (easy one, but everyone should have an answer for it).
What are the most important qualities of a good leader?
Empathy, decisiveness, confidence, responsibility, and a sense of humor.
What advantages do you see as a woman in the workplace?
I know it may sound cliché, but we’re often just more “in tune” to what others are thinking and feeling than men are. We’re hardwired that way. Actually, it can be a burden sometimes, because at work there are some times when you just have to push through — even if someone is not aligned or upset — but for the most part it is extremely helpful. We can catch the nuances and subtleties before the guys can.
What advice would you give women starting their career?
Lots! But here are a few of my favorites:
- Love your industry: Really feel strongly about it. Work is work; it is different from the glory days of college where you may have had a chance to nap, or go to the beach on a Tuesday. Even in an industry that you’re truly passionate about, there are definitely going to be days that you’d really rather be at a spa – and know that that is okay; that feeling is okay and you haven’t failed yourself. But just choose wisely and deliberately so those types of days are less frequent.
- 10/10/10: This is an important one because I think as go-getters we so often “get lost in the weeds,” and forget that we have a life to live. You can’t forget about yourself and what’s actually important in life — so always ask yourself the “10/10/10 rule” [advanced by author Suzy Welch]. Here’s how it goes: when you’re faced with a difficult decision at work, whether it’s a direction to choose or a work/life balance question, ask yourself how you’ll feel about the situation in ten minutes, ten months, and ten years.
For example: you know that your mother’s 60th birthday dinner party is at 6 p.m., but your entire team is working late on a deadline. In ten minutes, you’ll likely feel like crap, and be worried what your boss will say if you drop out of the meeting; in ten months, if the deadline really couldn’t be extended, or you couldn’t pick up in the morning/later in the evening, it may show up on your review (but hopefully you’ve done some other kickass work to make up for it); but – here’s the decider, maybe — in ten years you won’t remember the work thing; you’ll remember your mom thanking you all for being there to help her celebrate, and that hilarious thing your brother did. So the rule helps you to remember what is really important, and puts things in perspective.
What book would you recommend for women just starting their career?
Strengths Finders by Tom Rath. You should know where you’re strong and where you’re weak, and be aware of it, because it’ll make you better at your job.