The Martin Agency's Karen Costello returns to Deutsch L.A. as chief creative officer
Karen Costello is on the move.
The chief creative officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.’ The Martin Agency is leaving, but staying somewhat within the family. She will be rejoining IPG agency Deutsch Los Angeles—where she served as executive creative director for 12 years before moving to The Martin Agency in 2017—as its new chief creative officer.
This is actually Costello's third stint with Deutsch L.A., as she was one of the agency’s first creative hires in 1997. She left for one year in 2004 to be a creative director at Secret Weapon Marketing in Santa Monica, California, before returning in 2005.
“Clearly I’m a big fan and love them and consider them to be family,” Costello tells Ad Age, saying the agency is made of “incredible people, incredible talent, incredible heart.”
Costello is replacing ex-Deutsch L.A. Chief Creative Officer Brett Craig, who was fired in June over an offensive email he sent to a client that resurfaced from a former employee, Kady Kamakaté, who posted a screenshot of that email to Instagram. First reported by Adweek, the email showed Craig discussing a casting decision in which he calls the choice of actor “a nice balance … Not so urban/AA” (AA meaning African American). Kamakaté wrote in her Instagram post, “I never once felt protected or empowered enough to speak up … lest I be considered ‘too urban/AA.’”
Coincidentally, Costello stepped into The Martin Agency’s chief creative officer role in 2018 after another public ouster: Joe Alexander, who was fired from that role in December 2017 following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations. Costello was The Martin Agency’s first female chief creative officer.
Costello says she “always” wants to focus on “progress, not the downfall of others.”
“That’s what I’m about,” she says. “making a positive impact and moving things forward.”
Deutsch L.A. CEO Kim Getty tells Ad Age that Costello “was our first call” when the chief creative officer role opened up.
“Karen is an extraordinary person,” Getty says. “She has an amazing creative pedigree and track record of leading, inspiring and developing motivating work.”
Getty adds what is most admirable about Costello is “her spirit.”
“She advocates for people who can’t advocate for themselves,” Getty says. “She’s an advocate for positive change.”
Plus, Getty praises Costello as “one of the people who really helped build Deutsch L.A. and turn it into the national powerhouse it is.”
Costello’s mark on The Martin Agency
Costello was named an Ad Age Woman to Watch in 2019 because of the dramatic positive change she effected at The Martin Agency. Working alongside CEO Kristen Cavallo, who was also installed following Alexander’s ouster, Costello helped set new standards for the agency and industry.
She and Cavallo doubled the number of women on The Martin Agency’s executive board during her time there; they appointed the first person of color to the agency’s board; and they even closed the wage gap—which not many other agencies, even in 2020, have done.
Costello is also credited with scoring a number of wins for The Martin Agency in recent years including Old Navy and DoorDash. She also oversaw the accounts of the agency’s other clients like Oreo and long-term partner Geico.
“When Karen said yes to being my partner, I felt lionhearted,” Cavallo said to Ad Age in a statement. “Just like that. She’s the Tina to my Amy. We pinky-swore on day one that our families would win in the juggle and we’ve gone to great lengths to see that promise through. I’m so proud of everything we accomplished together. We’ve been forged by fire and I’m grateful for her friendship.”
It is unclear exactly what plans The Martin Agency has made for Costello’s replacement.
Costello says it’s “bittersweet” leaving The Martin Agency. “I have so much love for that part of my ad family,” she says.
But, for her, a return to the west coast also means being closer to some of her family members who live there.
“I’m very much feeling the pull of family,” Costello says. “This very strange and crazy time illuminates a lot of things and makes you think about the things that matter.”
She says she felt it was a “cosmic” calling to return home to L.A. when Getty called about the opportunity.
During her previous time at Deutsch L.A. Costello is credited by the agency for leading teams across its Target and Zillow accounts and growing the office’s headcount from 13 to 400 people in only its first few years. Throughout her career, Costello has reeled in many creative awards and worked across brands in various categories including fashion, music and auto.
Asked whether she sees an opportunity to get Deutsch L.A. back in the auto business following its loss of the U.S. Volkswagen account in 2018, Costello says: “I suppose so; I certainly have a ton of experience in the car industry.”
“One of the things I always loved about Deutsch is its entrepreneurial spirit,” Costello notes. “They are always actively trying to reinvent themselves. They’ve fostered an environment where everyone just rolls up their sleeves and says ‘let’s figure this out and let’s have fun while we do it.’”
Costello will be working through September to ease her transition to Deutsch L.A. from The Martin Agency.