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M2M: Mary Olivieri on Exceptional Creative
December 7, 2017
M2M: Mary Olivieri on Exceptional Creative
Zhana Veleska

This week’s Marketer to Marketer (M2M) blog features CBD’s renowned Executive Creative Director (ECD) Mary Olivieri. With over 25 years of experience in the industry, she’s developed quite an eye for art and copy.


As Mary Olivieri’s nickname “Mama Creative” would suggest, she genuinely cares about her dedicated set of copywriters, designers, and digital talent. Though her position naturally involves an endless list of responsibilities, she always finds the time to ensure that the creatives at CBD are living up to their full potential and improving on their skills.

Perhaps it is due to her own ascent in the industry from a junior copywriter to executive creative director that Mary constantly strives to push her team until they have reached the finish line. One thing is for certain, when it comes to delivering exceptional creative — she never settles for anything less.

Q&A with Mary Olivieri

What is an average day in the office like for you? What can you usually expect to do?

Because I’m at the executive level, I’m not able to get as involved in creative projects as I’d like to be. A typical day for me involves employee management, new business development, and top-level creative strategy for our clients. Occasionally, I do get to play in the copy world, but, more often than not, my role involves coming up with overarching creative concepts and big ideas that our team can expand on. Of course, I’m also in charge of making the final decision on all of our work, and I particularly enjoy being a mentor to my talented creatives.

Executive Creative Director and VP Mary Olivieri plans exceptional creative work on a whiteboard at CBD Marketing.
Mary’s role also involves constant planning to ensure the success of all client work.

How do you constantly distinguish the exceptional creative work from the ordinary? Do you ever second-guess yourself in hindsight?

Wow. This is so hard to answer. To that first question – it’s your knowledge of what goes into solid copy and design, and the ability to evaluate if it creatively meets the requirements of the brief. It’s also about knowing how to keep the communication clean and impactful without being boring or obvious. BUT, the work still needs to be conceptual. That is only a small part of it and easy to learn with some years of practice.

The larger part is intuition. You see it and you know it. I have definitely second-guessed myself, and other people can also cause you to do so, but my experience has been that my gut is usually right. And if I stay the course and fight for what needs to be fought for — I know the client will get effective AND exceptional creative — and the agency will get a few trophies.


How have you come up with some of your best creative work? What was the process like? Any commonalities?

I’m a firm believer in behavioral marketing. Much of me and my team’s best creative work has come from immersing ourselves in the lives of the audience which we’re trying to persuade. We walk their walk. We talk their talk.

Once, while working on Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in The World campaign, I spent many lunch hours riding the freight elevator so I could listen to the types of conversations that the male target audience had with each other. Since my old office shared a building with a gym that those guys frequented, it was the perfect opportunity to tap into their tone and manner so I could get the voice right.

What advice would you give to an aspiring copywriter or designer that wants to be a creative director (CD) someday? 

1. Develop an eye for the entire piece of communication — not just your area of expertise. And practice presenting as often as you can. If you can’t sell it in, you can’t move past Sr. Copywriter or Sr. Designer.

2. Own the presentation from start-to-finish and be able to read the room.

3. Take an improv class — it will make you better at every aspect of your job.

4. Lose the ego. It’s not about you. It’s about your creative team, your account services partners, and the client.

5. Present your own work. Only you have the intimate details about how you arrived at the creative solution. And clients are often interested in that back-story.

6. Always set your fellow creatives up for success. As a leader, do all you can to get them the time they need to be creative.

7. Never take credit for an idea that’s not yours. Ever.


In your opinion, what is a key trait that all creatives should embody in the advertising and marketing industry of today?

They should know how to embrace wonder.


What is one of the biggest mistakes that creatives often make?

Putting work in front of a client that you don’t truly stand behind. It usually doesn’t end well. Whether the client ends up approving your work or not, you’ll be disappointed knowing that it wasn’t your best. You should always believe in what you bring to the table.


What is one method that you use to inspire exceptional creative work from your team?

There are a lot of tactics I use and it really depends on the individual and what is motivating to them. You have to know that about your people in order to be inspiring. However, there is one general exercise I really enjoy, and that is to ask them to translate their initial kernel of an idea in multiple ways — in words, in pictures, in symbolism, in music, etc. Then see where that takes their thinking. I also advise them to embrace limitations. It’s those limitations that can inspire something no one has thought of before.

Mary encourages the creative team at CBD Marketing to use building blocks to brainstorm ideas and generate creativity.
Mary encourages the creative team to explore their initial ideas in enjoyable ways.


Last but not least, what is meaningful to you outside of your role as the executive creative director of CBD?

Productivity and positivity. To me, the best kind of day is when I have achieved everything I hoped to — while positively impacting others along the way. Also, it’s nice if I have my dog by my side…and sometimes whiskey.


Want to know more about Mary? Follow her on Twitter @MaryOlivieriECD for more tips on how to inspire exceptional creative. Next up in the M2M series, we’ll be featuring CBD’s Senior VP Doug Davila and his take on new business development in B2B marketing.