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The Women in the Grey Flannel Suits

Behind every great "Mad Men" ...

Coming up as an ad student in the late 70s and early 80s, my quarter of a century advertising experience (ouch) began long after the 1960s.

As a result, I watch “Mad Men” to experience the stories and a history I never knew firsthand. But I was extremely lucky. I was not only one of the fortunate ones to begin a career when women were breaking through the glass ceiling, but had an opportunity to meet many of the women who forged the path. 

What I especially remember about putting the words “female” and “ad executive” together during the era of the 50s and 60s was the exposure I had to two women professors in my studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. They were both extraordinary women who lived through the era and from the little I knew, took very different paths personally but not professionally.

Shirley was the advertising professional who, from what I remembered, had no spouse or children.  She was the quiet professor who taught me advertising copywriting, though she taught many different disciplines as a full-time instructor and had a full-time career prior to her teaching.

Instrumental in evaluating our advertising team’s marketing and media plans for a national student ad competition sponsored by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), she stayed behind the scenes, dedicating extra time to this endeavor for a fellow (and female) advisor for the team.  

I remember she spoke of travel, of the importance of a cold beer with Mexican food, of a comfortable living -- a no-nonsense lady whose respect you earned, not assumed.

Fran was an advertising copywriter who, as an advertising instructor spoke of her copywriting agency experiences with major clients including Procter and Gamble. She was, at the time of my studies, the advisor of the aforementioned advertising team, and took FIT to three national championships where the teams placed in the top five for diverse clients as Sprite, Nabisco Snack foods and Corning Glass Works.

She told us about having to learn to hold her scotch with the boys (Chivas I believe), how her two daughters would recant stories of their mom coming into the living room when the television commercials (not the show) came on, how she would sit through focus group interviews and learn how to combat housewives’ fear of using Crisco oil because when hot, it splattered. 

She networked with all the AAF members before it was a term used, promoted FIT and her teams at every turn and told me to get to school after a 10-inch snow storm (always during Spring recess) or else the presentation would not go on. I distinctly remember my stomach churning when I sat in her sophomore “idea visualization” class and then going on to realize it may be my best skill as an advertising professional.

I hated her, I loved her, I mourned with her upon the passing of her husband, who was dying while we were going to regionals. She was one of the strongest role models in the business that I have ever met.

Both women introduced me and my classmates to other women professionals they knew, encouraged us to work and join with organizations such as the Advertising Women of NY Club and made us realize that we could be a force to be reckoned with within the industry despite our gender.

In the next few months there will be a lot of writing about the return of “Mad Men” and the creative people who paved the way for today’s version industry. I feel particularly grateful to the women who made their way through the ad business when it was anything but cool to be working outside the home – women who did what was necessary to get ahead and be respected for their abilities.

After all, who better to promote to the majority of the buying public  -- especially at that time -- but their fellow sisters?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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