Nina DiSesa

Former Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, McCann

Nina describes herself as a late bloomer.

After struggling with small writing jobs in her 20’s, she moved to Richmond, Virginia to work with Bill Westbrook and Harry Jacobs before Harry turned The Martin Agency into THE Martin Agency and Bill took the helm at Fallon.

Nina spent 10 grueling, happy years in Richmond honing her writing craft and trying to decide when it would be a good idea to return to her hometown New York.  
 
That happened in 1983 with Nina’s first job in a big, important agency: Y&R/NY. As a copywriter and Associate Creative Director, Nina soon learned that the quickest way to stand out in an agency of 1,200 people was to find a mess and volunteer to fix it. According to Nina, “a secure and comfortable job is not only boring, but it can stymie your growth as a creative thinker.” 

After four years at Y&R, working on blue chip consumer accounts like Jell-O, Frito-Lay and KFC, Nina took the leap to McCann Erickson as a writer and Group Creative Director managing the AT&T, Nabisco, Waterman Pens and Alka-Seltzer accounts. 

In 1991, JWT hired Nina as Executive Creative Director of its Chicago office. Nina says that this is the job in which her left brain started talking to her right brain. She credits that with her evolution from a self-involved writer to a creative leader and mentor.

In Chicago, Nina met James Patterson, who was then the Chief Creative Officer of JWT. “Nina was fiercely competitive and masterful at handling the men without us resenting it,” he said. “She manipulated me with her charm, and I didn’t care.”

In 1994, Nina returned to McCann/NY as EVP, Executive Creative Director. She led a successful team who enjoyed an unprecedented 3-year growth period that added over $2.5 billion in billings to the New York office from accounts like MasterCard, Verizon, Staples, Wendy’s, Kohl’s, and Avis. And during her tenure McCann won multiple Agency of the Year awards, including as Adweek’s Global Agency of the year both in 1998 and 1999 and as Ad Age’s Agency of the Year in 2000.

In recognition of her contributions, Nina was named Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, the first woman at McCann to earn this title and one of the first in the entire industry to do so. She was a pioneer and a hero to countless men and women in and out of McCann.

In addition to fueling an awesome new business machine at McCann, in 1999 Nina was chosen by Fortune Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business. And in 2005, she received the coveted Matrix Award for Advertising. 

During the last 10 years of her career she served as Co-Chairman of the Advertising Council’s Creative Review Committee, as a board member of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's), Co-Chairman of the CRC for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and as Vice Chairman of the AEF (the Advertising Education Foundation.) She was also a frequent jurist for awards shows including the Andy Awards, the Cannes Advertising Festival and the Clio’s.

Nina’s reach extended beyond the advertising industry to take personal responsibility in times of crisis. After 9/11, she put McCann’s resources to work helping the country to recover and to heal, absorbing the hard costs so that the response would be immediate when the need was greatest.

Likewise, after the 2005 tsunami tragedy in Asia Nina instantly stepped up, enabling the creation of an unprecedented PSA. Within three days her “three Presidents concept” brought President George W. Bush and former Presidents H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton to The White House to launch a headline-making tsunami relief initiative. Days later desperately needed relief funds for victims were pouring in. 

And after her retirement in 2010, Nina was named by Ad Age as one of the 100 Most Influential Advertising Women in the last 100 Years.

Nina’s success has been attributed to her skills as a master communicator, a fierce competitor, an inspiring leader, a passionate client advocate, a ceiling crasher, and above all, a mentor to women and men alike.

In 2008, Random House published her book Seducing the Boys Club. Her message is that to make it in the male-dominated business world, women need to learn to meld their inherent feminine strengths of nurturing, compassion, and collaboration with the traits of their male counterparts (competitiveness, decisiveness, combativeness). Importantly, she reminds women that because of their inherent traits, they are biologically wired to succeed.

Nina’s successor at McCann, Joyce King Thomas, says: “Nina taught me that a leader stands by her people. Even when we had a terrible meeting or, God forbid, lost an account, she never said an unkind word. Once you were “her people,” you were her people. She was smart enough to know that business is fickle, and that people matter more. When we lost a really important account, she said to us that we were more important to the agency than that business. And she meant it.”


Inductee, 2020 Advertising Hall of Fame

 

Last Updated: January 2020