By Brooke Dahnert
Nina Abnee is the Chief Client Officer at Leo Burnett in Chicago. Nina is renowned as a leading woman in advertising and Chicago Ad Woman of the Year (2010). In college Nina majored in history and wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do with her career. She ended up moving to Washington, DC to work in the non-profit sector. After a few years in the industry, Nina began to reach senior level positions and reflected on what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
While working at her not-for-profit jobs, Nina was able to work with advertising agencies and found that she, “really liked the mix of business and creative [in advertising]”. Nina had lunch with one of her friends who was a recruiter and she was told that if she was going to make a change in her career, she had to do it now.
Nina decided to pursue advertising. She began connecting with advertising professionals in the Chicago area. Nina stated, “Leo Burnett was the biggest and best in Chicago so I went for it.” She tried to setup an interview with her contact at Leo, but could not get through. Nina said: “[I] sent … a package with my cover letter, resume, and [some work examples] and I put them in an envelope and sent it by messenger. I tipped the guy and said, ‘go hand it to her directly’ … It somehow got through security and he was able to hand it to her … I waited about an hour and gave her a call … and she said, ‘okay, can you come in for an interview on Friday?”
After meeting with several people, Nina received a job offer from Leo Burnett. She started as a Client Services Trainee and then spent formative years working on a variety of brands at Leo. She then took a job at McCann Erickson Buick in Detroit, but ultimately ended up back at Leo after receiving a call from the CEO asking her to come back.
As a Client Services Officer, Nina’s stated that her, “job is to keep relationships with clients and it’s not like the Mad Men days where you go out and you play golf and drink martinis, … we have to be relentless on using creativity to drive our clients business … and we’re constantly having to reinvent ourselves and the way we do things to keep up.” She recognizes the necessity to always be looking to the future for the newest trend in advertising in order to stay relevant in the industry.
Nina considers listening to be a core strength and she takes the time to, “just look at the facts and strip out all of the emotion, [because then] the answers become quite clear”. Over time she has seen the industry become, “much more collaborative, [and] less hierarchical. We get together as teams … it’s better today I think … it’s got a lot more creative energy, not so many rules.”
Nina is responsible for a large team of individuals and stated, “it’s my job to bring out the best in people, not my job to worry about improving them and I like to try to help people figure out how they can be the best they can be … if we have people working at their best we’re going to be a stronger agency.” Nina is known as one of the most influential women in advertising in Chicago and it’s quite clear why she has gained so much respect within the industry.
Brooke Dahnert researched and interviewed Nina Abnee as part of Culpwrit’s graduate PR/AD course on Agency Management at DePaul University. This is the sixth in a series of agency leader profiles written by the students.