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Anne Marie Neal: “For all the senior women out there, the most important thing we can do is sponsor other women; actively seek and ‘pull up’ women through your organization”

Today’s unfortunate truth is that the representation of women in business drops significantly, from entry level to leadership positions. And when we look up, we see leadership teams and boards filled with men. This inevitably creates a sense that there is little space for women at the top and that we have to fight each […]


Today’s unfortunate truth is that the representation of women in business drops significantly, from entry level to leadership positions. And when we look up, we see leadership teams and boards filled with men. This inevitably creates a sense that there is little space for women at the top and that we have to fight each other to get a seat at the table. Ultimately resulting in a significant amount of judgement of and competition between women. But I urge us to flip the script — because the most powerful way for women to thrive in our industry is by banding together. Instead of competing or judging each other we must support each other, mentor each other, and sponsor each other. So, look around you — at not just the senior women at your organization, but your colleagues and teams, as well, and find ways to lift each other up and make the time to provide (and receive) needed mentorship. And for all the senior women out there, the most important thing we can do is sponsor other women. Actively seek and ‘pull up’ women through your organization, clear their barriers and champion them at all levels. It is the only way we are going to meaningfully change the ratio.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Marie Neal, Global Chief Marketing Officer of RAPP Worldwide. Anne Marie is responsible for driving growth and communications efforts across RAPP’s global network. A veteran of the agency world, she has focused her career on both driving measurable commercial value for her clients by leveraging the combustible power of data and creativity to do work that truly has meaning and building teams with diverse experience and skill sets — because she believes that is just the right thing to do.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

At the start of my career, I was most interested in advertising and marketing from the creative perspective. In my first job at a small shop in DC, I did everything from art direction to account management and just knew I wanted to change the world through beautiful creative. But… I also felt destined for something bigger, so I packed my car and drove up to NYC, where I started working for one of the most amazing women of my career who showed me the influence and results I could drive in Account Management. I believe in the power and necessity of solid account leaders to be advisors to clients and help drive a transformational business and marketing agenda that delivers growth. Now, as CMO, I get to do that to scale and love the global view I am afforded. I would never have been able to achieve that if I hadn’t been brave enough to take a chance in a new city and a new role. Fearlessness is required for success in our industry, and the core value of RAPP, which is why it is the right place for me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you stepped into a leadership position at your company?

There are two unexpected things that I learned quickly as a female leader:

1) The imposter syndrome is real
2) You have to give more than you expect to receive

Prior to my current role, I was the President of our San Francisco office — which I founded and grew very quickly. In my naivety, I just thought that running an office was the easy next step in my strong account management career path. In reality, it was the hardest job of my career so far. Firstly, because I felt I had to prove myself more than I really did. I had grown up through the organization and thought I needed to shake the perspective of being an account lead. Did I really have the chops to lead and build an office? The funny thing was, no one was asking that question except me! And secondly, because when you start something you are passionate about, you want everyone else to be as passionate about it as you. But that’s not always a realistic expectation. I pushed everyone hard to do things we haven’t done before, to work in a new way, to be the agency I thought the world needed. And not everyone was ready for that — or even shared the same goal — and it resulted in some people leaving the team. Which taught me a key leadership lesson: co-develop shared team goals and set clear expectations upfront.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

RAPP stands up for individuality. We were the first agency to put a stake in the ground about the power of the individual and the direction our industry is going, in terms of creating individual experiences at scale. We’ve made significant investments in our people, our products and the tools we use to get to where we are today and we’re finding ourselves in boardrooms and the C-Suite, leading our clients’ businesses through this transformation. And we have a small, super connected global leadership team that is giving everything we have to ensure we stay future-facing for our people, our clients and the people they serve. I think a great example of this is the investment we’ve made to stand up our Marketing Sciences Center of Excellence, comprised of a global group of experts and practitioners within our organization who dedicate their time to understanding policies (like GDPR) and generating innovative insights that inform cutting-edge, proprietary decisioning products for our clients, like 4D Segmentation and Affinity Loop Analysis which give us a high fidelity view of customer and understand their needs in their buying journey.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the most fulfilling focuses for me these days is working on enriching our Diversity & Inclusion efforts. I have decided to spend a disproportionate amount of my efforts on gender equality because I think the continued challenges women face in business are changeable, if we take an active and inclusive approach to solving them. I am a co-founder of the SF chapter of Omniwomen — an Omnicom ERG committed to providing mentorship and connections for the women across our global network. Additionally, I firmly believe it is incumbent on both men and women to commit to actions such as mentorship, sponsorship and different hiring and nurturing practices to create a collective force that will indeed break the proverbial ceiling, and I’m working with our Talent teams here at RAPP on 2019 programming to align with this vision.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Today’s unfortunate truth is that the representation of women in business drops significantly, from entry level to leadership positions. And when we look up, we see leadership teams and boards filled with men. This inevitably creates a sense that there is little space for women at the top and that we have to fight each other to get a seat at the table. Ultimately resulting in a significant amount of judgement of and competition between women.

But I urge us to flip the script — because the most powerful way for women to thrive in our industry is by banding together. Instead of competing or judging each other we must support each other, mentor each other, and sponsor each other. So, look around you — at not just the senior women at your organization, but your colleagues and teams, as well, and find ways to lift each other up and make the time to provide (and receive) needed mentorship. And for all the senior women out there, the most important thing we can do is sponsor other women. Actively seek and ‘pull up’ women through your organization, clear their barriers and champion them at all levels. It is the only way we are going to meaningfully change the ratio.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

1) Set very clear expectations. Be the enemy of ambiguity. The pace of change in the world has destabilized what we know about what works and how to get it all done. So being very clear on what you expect and creating a shared team charter will ensure people understand what they are working towards, and why.
2) Enable self-managing teams. Ensure you have a true sense of team purpose, clear shared values and behaviors and a common language you all live by and be sure to ignite individual’s superpowers. Doing so will help you build high-performing teams that create meaning and value in their work.
3) Invite all perspectives. Embedding diversity into your team is shown to generate better business results. In addition, embracing people to contribute will allow you to see things in different ways and grow as a leader. Finally, asking people to have a voice in the work builds team pride and trust.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am lucky to have had many mentors who have helped me throughout, and made me better in, my career. My most recent is actually a current colleague. She listens to, and improves on, my perspectives, she challenges me to go big or go home in my decisions and she ‘shows up’ every day in pushing capabilities and solutions that help make me a better practitioner at my job. I always give the advice to not only look up for a mentor but to look across, because I feel colleagues can provide a different perspective to a shared context. And that new outlook can actually help catapult your abilities.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Honestly, this will be a work in progress for me, for the rest of my career, as I never feel I am doing enough. Currently, in the smallest space of my own private world, I am trying to set an example for my children on the value of working mothers/women in this world. I am aiming to model the ambitions and behaviors that build inherent understanding that women and men are equal, that you can do anything you set your mind to and that ‘having everything’ is about choices — not balance. If I do this correctly, I will send two young men into the world who will be valuable contributors to society and know nothing but equality.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Be unapologetically you. Use your style as a distinctive advantage and teach the team, by the way you show up every day, that leading with your whole self is a winning proposition.
2) Never stop networking. Building relationships within your industry is the fastest way to personal and professional growth and opportunity. Spend 20% of your time doing it and be generous with your knowledge and perspective in your conversations. This will ensure you are on speed-dial for the most influential people in your industry.
3) Be brave, take chances. Do something new — move to a new city, a new country, start a new office, take a job you think you aren’t quite qualified for — because it will make you an all-around better person. It will be uncomfortable and potentially unplanned, but by giving yourself the chance to stretch, you will grow exponentially. 
4) Celebrate other women. Take the time to recognize other women publicly. Help each other out and demonstrate you are a champion for all women. It will get you fiercely committed followership!
5) Take care of you. This is, by far, the hardest thing to do. As women, we prioritize others’ well-being over our own and carry stress more easily. If you are not healthy or not demonstrating healthy habits, you won’t have a healthy team.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am inspired by a value at my son’s school — be kinder than necessary. Imagine a movement that actually championed and recognized kindness over anything else. We would have less war, less domestic violence, less bullying, less hurting, overall. We would be able to silence the unnecessary and polarizing rhetoric and open hate we are seeing these days and work together to solve for our biggest societal challenges.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A fish’s smell comes from its head.” Which basically means, how the head of an organization or team performs is quickly reflected by the collective team. This is a broader articulation of a more negative metaphor, but I like it better because it can be used to reflect a positive sentiment — not just a negative one. It constantly makes me consider my actions and how I show up every day. I can’t have expectations of a team’s performance if I am not setting the standard.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LINKED IN: linkedin.com/in/annemarieneal

TWITTER: @amneal12

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!

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