2 Minutes With .... Margaret McGovern, Executive Creative Director of Boathouse

On Mass General Brigham and breaking the stigma around type 2 diabetes

Margaret McGovern is the executive creative director of Boathouse, an independent ad agency near Boston founded by Hill Holiday and McCann vet John Connors. 

Before Boathouse, she was with Arnold Worldwide and MullenLowe. We spent two minutes with Margaret to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations and recent work she's admired.

Margaret, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Waltham, Mass., weirdly about a mile from where Boathouse is located. I live north of Boston now.

How you first realized you were creative.    

Really young. It was all I ever wanted to do. And it was very clear to me early on that it was what I was good at. My mom thought so, too. In kindergarten, I drew a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in black crayon. My mom thought it was great and had it framed and hung it in our kitchen. I have it hanging in my kitchen now to remind me of her unwavering support. 

A person you idolized creatively early on.    

My neighbor was an artist, a well known watercolorist. He was the head of the art department in my public school system. He would come into a classroom in elementary school and pick a student and draw their portrait in chalk on the chalkboard. Literally in two or three minutes. I was just amazed by how quickly he could capture someone's likeness. He lived a few houses away from me. On Saturdays, he would pile a bunch of kids from the neighborhood along with some of his own (he had nine) into his VW bus. We would drive into Boston and park on the top level of a parking garage with an interesting view of the city. We would all spread out with our sketch pads, easels etc., and spend the afternoon painting and drawing.Then we would all compare our work. It taught me so much—that we all see things in our own way, and how okay and exciting that is. This was when I was very young, under 10. He was a major influence on me. He allowed me to see, very early on, that you could be creative in your job, in your life and with your family.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.    

I did a summer program in Japan with Parsons School of Design. We studied with some very famous designers, Ikko Tanaka and Isse Myake. Lou Dorfsman (a famed graphic designer/art director at CBS for 40 years) ran the program. His focus on clear ideas combined with typography has informed my entire career. The experience was eye-opening. Japanese culture, their rigorous approach to design and work ethic. It changed the way I thought about design and what it communicates.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I have always loved Amadeo Modgliani. His elongated figure and faces are so beautifully composed, modern and ahead of their time. I saw a retrospective of his in Japan, and I have never forgotten it. Every time I step foot in a museum, I am looking for his work. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

The Moth Radio Hour on NPR. It's a podcast now. I have been listening to it for a long time, and I never get tired of it. I am obsessed with storytelling, and this show just fascinates me. The stories are performed in front of a live audience by their authors. The breadth and depth of their humanity just gets me every time.

Your favorite fictional character.

Jo March in Little Women. I literally wanted to be her at one point in my life. 

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.    

I now work at home. Which is crazy. If you had asked me five years ago if this was possible, I would have said absolutely not. But Boathouse is now an autonomous/virtual model. It's really working. The difference is huge for me. I have more time with my kids; we have dinner a lot earlier now. And what I really love is being able to work when the idea hits me. Late at night, or on a Sunday morning. Having my office just a few steps away really works for me.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

Mass General Brigham. Bringing together two leading academic medical centers, community and specialty hospitals and 80,000 employees—all during a pandemic. 

A recent project you're proud of. 

This campaign was developed to break the shame and stigma around type 2 diabetes, make it something that is okay to talk about, and preventing it in the communities where it is doing the most damage.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

Nike's "If You Let Me Play" TV spot. Janet Champ and Charlotte Moore just broke it open with this campaign. 

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Google's year-end ads get me every time. I know they have this distinct advantage of summing up all that happened in the world in a given year. But I just love the scale of it.

Your main strength as a creative person

I love a challenge. Give me a ridiculous timeline and I am all in. 

Your biggest weakness.

I get bored easily.

One thing that always makes you happy. 

Beautiful light. It can be anywhere, in my rearview mirror, while I am walking my dogs, or looking out the window doing the dishes. It just stops me and takes my breath away. It reminds me that there is always something beautiful to see in this world, and it is right there in front of you, no matter what is going on or what you are feeling.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Beautiful light, it reminds of the fragility of life and to be grateful for that one fleeting moment.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Honestly? I probably would be working for a nonprofit somewhere trying to restore Roe vs Wade. Making sure that women everywhere have the right to make autonomous decisions about their own body.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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