Women's History Month

Women’s History Month

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As women’s history month draws to a close, we will take the opportunity to recognize a few of the women who have shaped the advertising industry. These are the trailblazers who, during the course of the last 150 years, have made exceptional contributions to advertising.

Women in advertising


Mathilde C. Weil

Not much is known about Weil because she was born in 1822 in Germany, but she is credited as one of the pioneers in advertising. In 1880, 15 years after the end of the civil war, she founded The MC Weil Agency, which specialized in word advertisements for newspapers. Remember that women couldn’t vote in many parts of the world in 1880…..

Shirley Polykoff

Polykoff was born in 1908 in Brooklyn and started her career in the magazine industry as a teenager. She worked at Harper’s Bazaar, before moving on to retail stores including Bamberger’s and Kresge.

She is famous for the epic lines “Does she—or doesn’t she?” and “Hair Color So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure” for Clairol that were incredibly successful and had a profound effect on American women. Before the campaign, 7 percent of women in the US dyed their hair. After, it was more than 50 percent, and sales of tints and dyes increased from $25 million to more than $200 million with Clairol having 50% of the market. Remember this was back in 1955 so the current equivalents of these amounts are considerably more!

Mary Wells Lawrence

We can’t talk about women’s history month (in relation to advertising) without including Lawrence. She was born in 1928 and started her career in 1951. She worked at McCann, DDB, and Jack Tinker and Partners before deciding to start her own agency with Richard Rich and Stewart Greene. That was in 1966 and Lawrence took the role of founding president.

The agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, went public in 1968 making Wells Lawrence the 1st female CEO of a New York Stock Exchange-listed company.

By 1969, Lawrence was reported to be the highest-paid executive in advertising. She was selected by U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to be a member of his Commission on Critical Choices for Americans and was also invited by U.S. President Gerald Ford to represent business at an Economic Summit in Washington, D.C.

Lawrence finally stepped down as CEO in 1990 after a nearly 40-year career in the industry. She received several awards during that period including the Golden Plate, 1971 Advertising woman of the Year and she was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 1999. She was also awarded the Lion of St. Mark for her lifetime achievements at the 2020 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity

Clearly not a person who liked to do nothing she later wrote “A Big Life in Advertising” in 2002. Then, at the tender age of 80, she is one of the five founders of wowOwow, a website created, owned, and written by women for women.

Caroline Robinson Jones

Caroline Robinson Jones was among the first female African American advertising figures. She became the first black Senior Copywriter at J. Walter Thompson and eventually rose to become the Creative Director. She also worked for BBDO where she became the first black female VP of a major advertising agency.

Jones later founded agencies that specialized in minority advertising, making her among the first to do so. She helped found Caroline Jones Advertising, Zebra Associates, and Mingo-Jones. These were among the first agencies to be created by primarily African American executives and to focus on minority advertising.
⁠Her claim to fame was creating the infamous KFC slogan “We Do Chicken Right”, along with working for other famous brands such as American Express, McDonald’s, and Toys R Us.⁠

All the others

We could go on as we have not spoken about Christine Frederick (who founded the league of advertising women with her husband), Phyllis Kenner Robinson (DDB’s first-ever chief copywriter), Erma Proetz (the first woman elected to the Advertising Hall of Fame) and many more who should be remembered as part of women’s history month…

The future

Advertising has always been an industry that has attracted a large percentage of women. In 2020, 52.5 percent of employees in the advertising, public relations, and related services industry were women*. It’s a shame that we must specifically highlight some of these achievements as part of women’s history month.  The issue (as is the case for other industries) has been that these percentages drop off when it comes to leadership positions. The ‘3 % Conference’ was created because only 3% of advertising creative directors were women. That number has risen since the conference was created as the latest data shows that women have approximately 45% of leadership roles are held by women in 2020 compared to 29% in 2019. I am not convinced that this is right, but we hope that this trend continues. It would be great to see the percentage of women in leadership roles being the same as it is for the industry in general.

*According to employment data in the United States

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