In the Wake of a Sexual Harassment Scandal, The Martin Agency Names New CEO

Agency veteran Kristen Cavallo takes over for Matt Williams

Cavallo has been with IPG's MullenLowe since 2011. MullenLowe
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

The Martin Agency announced the appointment of a new CEO today, less than two weeks after the departure of former chief creative officer Joe Alexander amid a wave of sexual harassment allegations.

Kristen Cavallo, a longtime industry veteran who spent more than 12 years with the agency before leaving for fellow Interpublic Group shop MullenLowe, will take over for Matt Williams as the highest-ranking executive at the Richmond, Va.-based company.

The incoming CEO most recently served as U.S. chief strategy and growth officer at MullenLowe, overseeing its offices in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Winston-Salem, N.C.

“This is an important moment,” said Cavallo in a statement regarding her new position. “I want people to feel the possibilities that exist for this agency. They are talking about us, but soon I hope they are rooting for us. As a strategist, I love opportunities for transformation, and feel fortunate to play a part, with the full support of Interpublic and its leadership, to help re-write the ending of this chapter.”

She indirectly addressed the Alexander controversy: “Obviously, there is a need for a new direction, and the culture has to evolve. To be the first female CEO of this agency, in this year, under these circumstances—the weight of this isn’t lost on me. It’s going to be hard, but we can do hard things. As a mom, I want my kids to see that, and to set an example that resilience and possibility matter.”

The Martin Agency parted with Alexander last Friday but initially declined to comment on the reasons for his departure.

The following week, Adweek published a story based on conversations with 11 individuals who had worked directly with Alexander, two of whom spoke on the record. The piece included summaries of his alleged misbehaviors, which included multiple instances of sexual harassment over the course of approximately 20 years. It also noted that the agency and Alexander reached a monetary settlement with a former employee in 2013.

An internal memo sent to all Martin Agency staff later the same day stated that leadership made the decision to force Alexander out after one unnamed female employee came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. Alexander continues to insist that all allegations made against him are “false” and that he resigned of his own accord rather than face “a drawn-out, hurtful investigation.”

Industry advocacy group the 4A’s later rescinded Alexander’s “100 People Who Make Advertising Great” honor, stating, “We support agencies that take action to create safe and respectful environments for all employees.”

“The Martin Agency has established its place as a storied brand, serving great clients and producing some of the industry’s most awarded creative work. Kristen spent her formative years at the agency, so she knows how special a place it can be,” said IPG chairman and CEO Michael Roth, adding, “Kristen has been described as bringing stability and purpose to teams and organizations, even those on unstable ground.”

A spokesperson for The Martin Agency deferred all questions regarding today’s news to its parent company. An IPG representative did not make Cavallo available for interview today and declined to comment on the current status of both Williams and president, COO Beth Rilee-Kelley. The former executive joined the agency as account director in 1991 and received the CEO promotion in late 2012, while the latter served as head of human resources before being promoted to COO and later president in 2016.

Alexander is not the only longtime executive to leave The Martin Agency in recent months. Chief strategy officer Earl Cox, who spent more than three decades with the company, officially retired in September to be replaced by former senior vice president, managing director, strategic planning Michael Chapman.

According to the press release, The Martin Agency leadership will report directly to IPG as the holding group completes an investigation regarding Alexander’s departure and works to support the incoming leadership.


@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.