Savvy Savino

After dealing with sexism, CEO stresses culture.
1021 Editorialcontent Exec Profile
Photograph by Shawn Harper

Jennifer Savino, CEO at KW2, spent 10 years working in Seattle for both large and small ad agencies before returning to the Midwest with her two young boys in tow.

Her mission? To purchase her own agency.

In 2004, armed with a list of agencies whose owners were nearing retirement, she met with Ted Knupp of Knupp & Watson (KW), and joined the company just as Andy Wallman, president, was about to purchase it. With Savino’s business and account knowledge and Wallman’s creative energy, they decided to partner up in 2008, and KW became KW2.

Last year, Savino became majority owner and shortly after, she was named CEO, fulfilling her dream.

Tell us about KW2.

We market ourselves as an ad agency, but I think a better description is a marketing firm. We don’t just book ads. We look at best ways to change perceptions, build trust, and reach audiences. Our clients are mostly concentrated in public health, public education and information, higher education, and business services.

How does an agency impact messaging when so many platforms are available to people 24/7?

Consumers interact differently with content these days, but the messaging is the same, just in a shorter timeframe. Ten- or 15-second, highly produced video ads are more common now.

Many of our campaigns come down to a very niched level. I find it all very exciting! Rather than making large broadcast buys, for example, we reach people where their eyeballs are through influencers and on-the-ground tactics. An influencer can be a family member, church leader, or educator.

In our world, everything is driven by data, so it’s much easier to know who’s watching. Our media people are data analysts now, so research starts a project and data ends it.

What’s the culture like at KW2?

I must digress for a moment: Around the year 2000 in Seattle, I worked for some male-run organizations that fostered a culture of inequality and disrespect. A male partner once pulled me aside to give me some “friendly” advice — that I “cloak” the fact that I was a mom because it would not help my career! He suggested I take my kids’ photos down in my office and not talk about them so much. That’s just how things were.

Here, Andy and I have worked very hard to create a culture that is very different. We believe that if you treat employees like the human beings and adults they are, they will stay longer. We’ve lost some employees who left the field, but we’ve also doubled in size over the last two years, and I think that’s because our employees understand this is a two-way street: They give us their time and talent, and we give them a salary and an opportunity to grow. I believe that philosophy will win when it comes to COVID’s impact and the worker shortage. We keep professional people who appreciate that mutual respect.

What makes you most proud?

I think of my grown boys — one in college and one in high school. They’ve seen a black U.S. president in Barack Obama. Their mom is a working CEO. Our younger employees are working for a female CEO. What a great way to shape the perception of women! My hope is that those things become so commonplace that nobody thinks twice about them in the future. That’s why we need more women in leadership positions.

But if anyone on our staff would ever tell someone to “cloak” the fact that they were a parent — or whatever — they wouldn’t be here!

What advice would you offer female college students?

Be true to yourself, find your voice, and don’t compromise. Also, really know your commodity. What are you good at? When you figure that out, it’s empowering!

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