Once receptionists, today’s women work 55% of advertising jobs.
Women today earn 60% of college degrees, and they are the backbone of the U.S. labor force. As the critically acclaimed Mad Men begins its fifth season Sunday on AMC, we are reminded of the changes in the advertising industry and work style — from the heyday of fictional Don Draper and his counterparts at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, to today, when women comprise 55% of advertising industry jobs. Education and politics have played a role in making this happen, but so have scores of trailblazing women. Those of us who “remember when” are preparing for an all-too-familiar and bittersweet trip down memory lane. The style, glamour and swagger portrayed on Mad Men was typical in the 1960s. So was the dangling cigarettes and free-pouring booze! Yes, Mad Men accurately portrays it all, including the sometimes-demeaning treatment of women in the workplace. The ’60s were not an easy time for women who wanted to be part of what appeared to be the creative and exciting world of advertising. I found myself there, armed with dual degrees in advertising and journalism. I had top grades, creative awards, a portfolio of samples, an optimistic attitude and a fierce desire to succeed. But I quickly discovered that because I’m a woman, getting a copywriting job was going to be hard, maybe impossible. In those days, HR could actually say you weren’t going to get a job because they “only hire men.” Or this: “Your credentials are outstanding, but you might get married, or worse, pregnant, and leave us.” When I did finally get hired, it was with the caveat that I write copy while also acting as a receptionist (a la early Peggy Olsen). I’m proud of the fact that I greeted visitors for only a few months before one of my commercials was produced, and I was moved from the front desk to the creative department. I had arrived. Or, had I? I encountered the same treatment, frustration and challenges as Peggy. That’s the bad news. The good news is I lived to tell the story, and I have enjoyed a wonderful career in advertising and promotional marketing — as a copywriter, creative director, trend watcher, ideation facilitator, Executive Vice President and, of course, as Executive Director of Insights at Vertical Marketing Network.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like the roles of women have come a long way in the world of advertising and marketing. Mad Menmay be fictional, but plenty of real-life Wonder Women helped change the creative landscape.
Yes, the 1960s were a mad world, especially for women. That’s changed, thanks to the talent, perseverance and dedication of many smart, savvy and strong leaders, like Mary Wells Lawrence, the first woman to establish her own advertising and marketing agency (Wells Rich Greene), and Charlotte Beers, the first woman CEO of Ogilvy & Mather. Then there’s Shelly Lazarus, the current chairman of Ogilvy & Mather who’s credited with the signing of multi-million dollar deals with American Express and IBM. She was named one of the Most Powerful Women in the World in 2011. Thank goodness for trailblazers like Carol H. Williams, who began her career as a creative at Leo Burnett; she is now president and CEO of one of the largest independent ad agencies in the country and is considered a titan in the world of advertising. From the world of marketing, we’d be foolish not to acknowledge Estee Lauder, whose empire was created by understanding women and their needs, and by using the promotional technique of sampling to build her business. There were and continue to be many other amazing and successful women, such as: Lauren Hobart, former CMO for sparkling brands at PepsiCo; Maureen Sullivan, senior vice president of brand and marketing partnerships at AOL; Kathy O’Brien, vice president of personal care marketing for Unilever, North America; and Beth Waxman Arteta, CMO at JWT, NY.
Armed with education, ingenuity, intuition, earning and spending power, and the incredible reach of social media, women everywhere are having their say and making a difference in the business world. While Mad Men provides us with an entertaining glimpse into the advertising and marketing days of the past, women involved in the business today are a better barometer of where the community is headed tomorrow.