While still building a career in legal marketing, Holly McCleary holds leadership roles in two professional organizations. 

By all accounts, Holly McCleary is a very organized person. 

However, the 29-year-old admits her path into the legal marketing field was less than organized. 

“I answered a blind ad,” she said. “I needed a job.” 

Since joining the Jackson Walker legal firm in 2018, McCleary has taken a leadership role in the Legal Marketing Association Southwest Region, where she will begin as advocacy director next year, and at the American Advertising Federation – Fort Worth, where she is currently president. 

“Usually, the president is someone from an agency, and I don’t know if they’ve ever had someone in legal marketing as president of the AAF before, but I love it,” she said. 

The AAF, formerly known as the Advertising Club of Fort Worth, is an organization for professionals in advertising and marketing. Their signature event is the Addy Awards program, which honors advertising and marketing campaigns. The organization has deep roots in the city, having been founded by the legendary publisher and civic booster Amon G. Carter Sr. in 1909. 

Like many social organizations, the pandemic hit the AAF hard, McCleary said. 

“One of the ways AAF was beneficial to members was by networking and having educational programs for members, and we couldn’t do that much during COVID,” she said. 

As a result, the organization has been in a rebuilding mode since the pandemic. 

“There was a lot of work that needed to be done to rebuild,” said Susan Cook, president of COOK: A Creative Consultancy and a longtime AAF member. 

McCleary is the person to do that, Cook said.

“When she says she is going to do something, she does it, she follows through,” she said. “Holly gets things done and done well. I’ve never seen her drop the ball.” 

McCleary said she began her term as president with three goals: engaging and reengaging with members; bringing organization to the board; and succession planning for the board.

“We are working hard to rebuild, to prove our value to the creative community,” she said. 

The club has about 87 members at the moment, but the goal is to increase that number. 

The organization’s latest programs for members have proved popular, said Cook. 

“We’re seeing some results. Our last program had great attendance and engagement,” she said. 

One way McCleary gets things done is using her organizational skills, said Cook.

“When I was her age, I got a lot of things done, too, but by not sleeping,” said Cook. “Holly is organized.” 

McCleary admits organization is one of her skill sets. 

“I am organized, and I like to follow through on what I promise,” said McCleary. She expects others to follow through as well. As the local AAF rebuilds, she has made it clear what is expected of board members. 

“I’ve been very transparent about what the commitment as a board member looks like, so they know what’s expected, and they understand that,” she said. 

McCleary said that in the past when AAF members have taken on board positions, it has often become a second job. She doesn’t want that. 

“That’s not possible with me – I have a full-time job – and with most other people,” she said. “I respect their time. If I tell them our meeting is going to be 60 minutes, it’s going to be over in 60 minutes. I keep things moving.”

McCleary’s commitment to organization extends to her whole life. She is a big fan of Monday.com, an online project management tool, and of Day Designer, a physical planner.

“I have to have something that lets me check off a list,” she said. “That makes me feel like a task is complete.” 

McCleary is also committed to her job at Jackson Walker LLP, which has seven offices around the state and about 500 attorneys.  

“It’s the perfect mix between corporate and agency life,” she said. “I have an overall company — Jackson Walker — to market, and I have several clients who are basically the attorneys. It always keeps me on my toes, and I’ve learned a lot.” 

McCleary said she is learning a lot about how to be a leader as she takes on more responsibilities at her company and with the AAF and the Legal Marketing Association. 

“I’ve always been given leadership positions,” she said. “But I’ve learned that you have to step back and let other people take the lead. That’s been hard for me to learn, but it’s great because even more gets done and it helps develop their leadership abilities.” 

Holly McCleary

Birthplace: Ennis

Family: My immediate family is my boyfriend, Selby Lopez, and my dog, Babe Ruth.

Education: University of Texas at Arlington, B.A. in public relations and advertising, graduated December 2017. 

Work experience: Jackson Walker LLP (2018-Present). Started as a marketing communications assistant and is currently a content specialist.

Volunteer experience: AAF Fort Worth (since 2022): president, 2023-24, vice president, 2022-23; Legal Marketing Association (since 2021): rolling off of programming director position for the LMA Southwest Region and will assume the position of advocacy director of the Southwest Region Board in January 2024. 

First job: Network/syndication editor at FYI Television (now Red Bee Media). 

Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Don’t focus on being a manager; focus on serving others so that your organization can rise up. If you receive feedback, be open to it. That doesn’t mean you blindly follow the advice. But feedback is the greatest gift you can receive, because it leads to growth. Also, follow through on what you say you’re going to do — and try not to over-promise.

Best advice ever received: It is OK to say no; do what is best for you and your health. You do not have to say yes to everything, and you really shouldn’t. 

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Noncommercial entities may republish our articles for free by following our guidelines. For commercial licensing, please email hello@fortworthreport.org.

Robert Francis is a Fort Worth native and journalist who has extensive experience covering business and technology locally, nationally and internationally. He is also a former president of the local Society...