Anita Gatto is the Chief Growth Officer of her own experiential marketing agency, Self Employed. Along with her business partner, Chief Branding Officer and new mom, Sarah Ivory, they’re forging a new way to find start-up success that embraces working motherhood, instead of stifling it like so many of their job environments did before. Anita has an impressive C.V. that includes in-house gigs with Tommy Hilfiger and John Varvatos and clients such as Hulu and PepsiCo. Formerly from Toronto and now based in L.A., her client list buzzes with names like Kylie Jenner, KKW Beauty, Ember, Westfield Group and more, plus her toddler daughter is expecting a new baby sibling this December. Her thriving agency was launched while she was pregnant two years ago and with LoveMom.ca Anita reflects on the unwritten rules that have guided her success so far.
Get started on a hunch.
“Sarah and I found each other when we were not interested in the PR model anymore. We met, and quickly realized our personalities were a perfect match; essentially, we dated and worked on a project before thinking of starting a business together. We strategized and asked each other critical questions of how we approach business. I was pregnant at the time, but that never came up. Instead we asked: How are we going to be our most creative selves? We both knew the type of traditional PR we were both used to didn’t make sense anymore, especially for the retainers agencies were charging. Strategy was missing—beyond crisis PR and maintaining a calendar. And we instinctively knew journalists are the best storytellers and it was our job to give them a story they would really want to report. We wanted to break those barriers down and start something that was authentic and transparent while keeping a low overhead and putting budget where it should be — the work being activated. So we created an experiential agency. As Sarah puts it, we provide the human experience of an advertising campaign while creating memories for the target audience and media to remember about that brand.
Be creative first. Brand yourself later.
“We had the opportunity to pitch a Moët Hennessey job and we happened to know the head of entertainment who was in charge of the RFP [request for proposal], so we put together a fully thought out plan to reposition Hennessy X.O with a new customer in Hollywood. We asked architect Paul McClean to design an ice bucket and planned a private dinner at one of his homes hosted by Armie Hammer. We took a huge leap pitching this concept and won the bid! Now we had no other choice but to figure it out and launch our agency officially. I can’t even tell you how perfect it went. The timing was crazy because Armie had a crazy successful year [after starring in the award-winning film Call Me By Your Name]. Throughout the whole thing we established Self Employed. We put creativity and passion at the forefront then it worked itself out. I was still pregnant; I was due with Mia a couple of months after this first job. And from that moment, we signed on four other clients, including the first pop-up for Kylie Jenner’s cosmetic company Kylie Cosmetics, which we worked on during the same month I had Mia. I actually took a call from the bathroom of the delivery room on that one”
Bring your feelings to work.
“Sarah and I both worked for male dominant companies while living in New York during our 20’s. When we did our own strategy session it was easy to figure out what our own agency would stand for: We are emotionally invested because our business is personal. This ideas was in total contrast to what we lived and breathed for so long. We’ve been told our entire lives, especially as women, ‘don’t be emotional’ or ‘nobody wants to see you cry’. There was a time when climbing the ladder meant keeping your personal life at home and we simply didn’t want to start a company that lived by those codes anymore. We do get emotional about things like when we sign up a new company; that excites us. We get equally emotional when we have to say goodbye or a pitch we had doesn’t fly. We’ve attracted clients with that state of mind and unapologetically start a meeting talking about our kids. If they don’t like it, then we know that client just isn’t the right fit for us. If we can’t feel comfortable discussing our families, then we can’t be our true selves. It’s just such a great time in history to be up front about working motherhood. I wouldn’t have dreamed in a million years that I could walk into a meeting and say ‘omg my daughter did the cutest thing’. We’re at a time when we can feel proud about being moms and kick-ass business women at the same time.”
Baby is good for business.
“I had that stage in my early pregnancy when I had so much energy and enthusiasm that motivated me to get the agency started. I’m on the forefront talking to clients and new business and Sarah handles the branding and creative production. By the end of this year, we will combined, have had 3 kids in 3 years since launching our company. We just worked through our pregnancy and new born stages, and luckily our families like visiting us in LA to help out. My husband [Chris Cottam], is a TV and Film Director and he was able to block off work during Mia’s first three months. If I didn’t have his support, I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I accomplished at the start of our business. Having Mia didn’t slow me down and being pregnant currently hasn’t slowed me down either. Instead, becoming a mom made me focus more and I only spend my time on what needs to get done and what fulfills me. And that does not include countless minutes on social media or even socializing as much as I used to. I spend less time on the fluff and more time on the work. With that in mind, I have more time with my family and more time to develop my dreams.”
Anita is cultivating a Zen attitude about parenting with plenty of help from The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Oprah-approved, this read combines Eastern philosophy and Western psychology to help parents nurture confident and conscious children into their best selves.
One of the perks of Anita’s circle of trust is that it includes international photographer Rankin, who took this shot of little Mia with his signature point of view.
Her favourite piece of jewellery: Her engagement ring. This Cartier stunner is not only brilliant, but less apt to get caught in her wee one’s clothing and hair.
This mom loves the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the Jonathan Adler’s Kiki’s Derriere Vase that was made in homage to Kiki de Montparnasse, the legendary nightclub singer, actress, painter, and French artists’ muse.
Motherhood doesn’t mean saying sayonara to cut-offs. When she’s off-duty and sprinting after her littles, Anita reaches for her vintage Levi’s shorts.