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For The Martin Agency’s first female CEO, “the point is equality”

Kristen Cavallo, the first female CEO of The Martin Agency, discussed “Female Leadership in the Age of #MeToo” at Virginia Commonwealth University on Monday. Since taking the reigns at the agency, she has taken on issues like eliminating the gender wage gap and increasing diversity.

Capital News Service



By Arianna Coghill

“We need boobs in the room.”

“Maybe if you had taken your husband’s last name, you wouldn’t be divorced.”

“Maybe if you slept with the client, we’d win.”

Those are some of the comments that advertising expert Kristen Cavallo has heard throughout her career.

She is the first female CEO of The Martin Agency, the Richmond-based advertising firm that created the Geico gecko and has partnered with iconic brands like Oreo and Discover Card.

This is Cavallo’s second stint at Martin: She worked there from 1998 to 2011, rising to senior vice president of planning and development.

After a sexual harassment scandal at the agency, Cavallo was brought back as chief executive officer, and she has been taking issues head-on like eliminating the gender wage gap and increasing diversity hires.

Cavallo shared her insights on being a female leader in the wake of the #MeToo movement during a presentation Monday at Virginia Commonwealth University.  The event was sponsored by the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.

“I am a reluctant CEO,” Cavallo confessed. “I never aspired to be a CEO. I never wanted to be a CEO.”

She said she had initially believed she wasn’t afraid of failing but simply didn’t want to be tied down. “I was scared I was going to be locked in. I’ve always valued freedom more than power.”

When she got the call for the CEO position at The Martin Agency, the job wasn’t on her radar. At the time, Cavallo was president of MullenLowe Group in Boston.

However, the call forced Cavallo to ask herself a tough question about her reluctance to take the job: Did she really not want it — or was she just not confident enough?

According to recent studies, this is a problem that many women contend with. Research about the “confidence gap,” also called imposter syndrome, suggests that women are less self-assured than men in the business world.

“To succeed, confidence matters as much as competence,” Cavallo said.

According to a Hewlett Packard internal report, men are more likely to apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the requirements while women apply only if they meet 100 percent. This study implies that men are less likely than women to let their doubts stop them from applying.

Currently, among Fortune 500 companies, only 24 CEOs — about 5 percent — are women. That has dropped from an all-time high of 32 female CEOs in 2017.

Cavallo said there is no single reason why female leadership is scarce.

“We really need to study and understand what is happening,” Cavallo said. “Is it a pendulum swinging? Are people thinking since it’s already happening that they’re not fighting it? Are people actively fighting against it? The answer is all of the above.”

According to Elle magazine, 52 percent of women who make a higher income than their spouse believe “I should make less.”  And when introducing the nuance of race, things become even more complicated.

On average, white women make 23 percent less than white men. But African-American women make 39 percent less than white men — and Hispanic women 47 percent less than white men.

Cavallo does not shy away from addressing diversity. During her past 15 months at the Martin Agency, she said she has worked hard to increase diversity, hiring and promoting people such as Danny Robinson, the firm’s new chief client officer. Robinson, who has won numerous advertising awards, is the first African American to join the agency’s top leadership team.

But Cavallo acknowledges the advertising industry still has a long way to go.

The #MeToo movement, which went viral in October 2017, centers around the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Celebrities such as Rose McGowan and Jennifer Lawrence have stepped forward with their own accounts of the harassment they’ve faced in their careers.

When Cavallo was named CEO of The Martin Agency in December 2017, the firm was dealing with an accusation of sexual harassment by its former chief creative officer, who subsequently left the agency.

At the forum at VCU, Cavallo said she originally believed that she never faced sexual harassment in the workplace, because at the time, she didn’t feel victimized.

“Maybe there was a sense that this stuff was normal or expected,” Cavallo said.

Now in her own work environment, people can utter the safeword “ouch” if they feel someone has taken humor too far. The goal is that no one should feel uncomfortable, she said.

The Martin Agency has a female CEO but also a female chief creative officer and chief financial officer. But to Cavallo, it’s not about putting women in as many powerful positions as possible; it’s about equality.

“Men are not the enemy, because the point is equality — not reverse domination,” she said. “All that is going to do is reverse the problems.”



The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Community Reporting Pop’s On Grace Closing in July

Fans of Pop’s only have a few month’s to hit the spot on Grace.




From and Karri Piefer

The pandemic, of course, and the devastating financial impact it had on restaurants, is among the reasons the restaurant will close.

“[There are] lots of layered reasons, some stemming from pandemic, but ultimately things can’t be the way they were,” he said. “And the vision has changed.”

But before everyone runs out and tries to crowd the restaurant all at once, remember, there are at least two months of Pop’s opportunities left.



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3rd Street Diner Sold

The exact plans for the space are unknown at this time but it supposedly will be a new restaurant.




The iconic corner cafe’s sale was announced yesterday.

Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer is pleased to announce the sale of the former 3rd Street Diner property located at 218 East Main Street in the City of Richmond, Virginia.

Ya Hua Zheng & Jianwei Tang purchased the 3,928 square foot retail building from 3rd Street LLC for $550,000 and will operate as a new restaurant.

Reilly Marchant of Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer handled the sale negotiations on behalf of the seller.

I’ll confess to having never set foot inside the diner but I’ll be bummed to see the neon go away if they go down that path.



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New national study: Downtown Richmond leads City’s growth over two decades

“Downtown Richmond continues to drive economic value, creativity, and innovation for the entire region.”




Richmond’s downtown is home to more than half the city’s jobs, it has absorbed nearly half of the city’s population growth over the last two decades, and it represents 35% of the city’s total assessed property value, all on less than 5% of the city’s total land area. A study by the International Downtown Association, and recently reported by Venture Richmond, offered this and other insights.

“Downtown has a remarkable concentration of the city’s real estate and cultural assets and has been a growth driver for the City’s transformation. It has also had a significant impact on the image of the entire Region,” said Lucy Meade, Venture Richmond’s director of economic development and community relations.

As part of Venture Richmond’s Annual Community Update, David Downey, President and CEO of the International Downtown Association, provided insights into how downtown Richmond is well-equipped to rebound from the financial challenges stemming from the pandemic while sharing a new study examining the value of Richmond’s downtown.

Various generations – from Generation Z to older populations – continue to have a high demand for the downtown experience, according to Downey. He noted that Richmond’s strong housing market, walkability, quality open spaces, and diversity scores, particularly in downtown, are positive indicators for the future.

“Downtown Richmond continues to drive economic value, creativity, and innovation for the entire region,” Downey said.

With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution continuing, Downey emphasized the need for companies to create productive and efficient plans for returning to the office to address the potential loss of innovation, creativity, and collaboration when working virtually.

During the event, Downey also shared takeaways from The Value of Downtowns and Center Cities, a report that quantifies the value of U.S. downtowns across more than 150 metrics under five core value principles with a focus on how downtowns contribute to the city and region around them. From 2017-2020, the IDA analyzed a total of 37 downtowns and center cities across the country.

The pre-COVID study finds that not only does Richmond’s downtown account for a significant proportion of the region’s jobs, but the city’s core experienced the region’s biggest percentage spike in residential population growth since 2000.

The significant and insightful results from the study included the following highlights. The full report can be found


Richmond’s downtown accounted for more than half (53%) of the city’s jobs (77,465 out of 147,251) compared to the average of 40% for other “established Downtowns” in the study. Richmond leads the list of “established downtowns” with 63% of the City’s knowledge industry jobs, which is relatively higher than Seattle (58%), Minneapolis (58%), and Miami (52%); compared to the average of 41% for other “established Downtowns.”

The private sector employs 66% of jobs Downtown (50,910 jobs) and knowledge industry jobs account for 35,100 jobs.

Workers in the city center are better educated, comparably. Two in five (39%) of downtown workers have at least a college degree vs. one in three (33%) workers citywide and 31% in the region.

Residential Population

Downtown is young and educated. Today, 40% of our residents are between 18-24, and 30% of residents are between 25-34. The Downtown residential population is well educated with 57% having a bachelor’s degree or higher—up from 40% in 2010 and 40% are enrolled in college.

Most impressive was the increase in residential units, soaring 71% since 2010. However, only 14% of downtown residents own their own homes, but the racial balance of homeowners in downtown is close to even: 51% white vs. 49% non-white.

Economy and Quality of Life

Downtown is an entertainment and tourism destination with 70% of the citywide hotel rooms located Downtown – 16 properties with 2,581 rooms.

According to the report, Richmond’s downtown has one-fourth of the city’s retail businesses (478) and one-third of its restaurants and bars (252). Total annual downtown retail sales of $526 million represent 23% of the city’s retail sales. Non-Downtown residents account for 55% of that economic activity. The city center’s restaurants, bars, and breweries generate a combined $221 million in annual sales, 89% of which come from non-residents.

Downtown received a strong Walk Score of 94% and a Bike Score of 80% compared to other established Downtowns and an average Walk Score of 85% and Bike Score of 70%.

The report found that downtown Richmond’s sustainable transportation numbers left room for improvement with 65% of Downtown residents commuting alone compared to 35% commuting to work using a sustainable form of transportation (i.e. do not drive to work alone).

“As our downtown businesses continue to meet the challenges imposed by the pandemic, this IDA report is a timely reminder of the value that downtown Richmond brings to both the city and the region,” said Lisa Sims, CEO of Venture Richmond.  “Our downtown will always play a significant role in our economic, civic, and cultural lives. As more people receive the vaccine, we are confident in the economic rebound of downtown.”

To view the full IDA report online, visit Venture Richmond’s website here:



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