Mary W. Lawrence
Responsible for creating one of the 20th century’s fastest-growing ad agencies, it was Mary W. Lawrence who first went beyond testimonial TV ads with talking heads.
She instead used scenes that told the story of a product’s benefits – a method that is a worldwide advertising standard to this day.
Mary W. Lawrence – No More Talking Heads
Lawrence’s parents, noticing that she was growing up to be a very shy girl, put her in drama, elocution, and dance classes.
But their primary reason for doing so was so that Mary would escape the fate of many a young girl in Youngstown, Ohio after the war: marrying a steelworker.
Lawrence’s first dream was to become an actress. So her mother brought the 17-year-old Mary to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, NY and then put her in an apartment, which she shared with another girl. Then, her mother went home.
The young, independent Lawrence left New York after a year, went to Pittsburgh, and studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. It was there that she met her first husband, Burt Wells, who studied industrial design and later became art director at Ogilvy & Mather.
The couple settled in Youngstown and Lawrence began her copywriting career with a job at McKelvey’s department store. At age 24, Lawrence moved back to New York with her husband and worked at Macy’s as a fashion ad manager. The year was 1952. The next year, she joined McCann-Erickson, supervising the copy group. In the succeeding years, her reputation for brilliance became widespread across the industry.
At Doyle Dane Bernbach, which she joined in 1957, she worked her way up to the vice president, drawing an annual salary of $40,000 when the average salary of men in America was less than $10,000.
She was pirated in 1964 by Interpublic for an annual salary of $60,000. Nevertheless, she had a hard time leaving Bernbach after so many years and only jumped ship because she was promised more creative freedom.
It was at this new company that she met her future business partners, Dick Rich and Stewart Greene. In 1967, the award-winning trio resigned to form Wells, Rich and Greene Inc.
Their first business was supposed to be a $7-million Braniff account, awarded to them by Braniff President Harding Lawrence. The account was formerly held by the company the trio had just resigned from – after which 11 other employees left the company as well to join the trio. After Mary married Harding Lawrence, the trio dropped the account.
Still, within their first 6 months, Wells, Rich, and Greene pulled in $30 million in billings. Moreover, during the next five years, the triumvirate achieved billings of more than $100 million, making them the most talked-about ad agency of the day.
The Mary W. Lawrence Quick Bio
Full Name: Mary Georgene Berg Wells Lawrence
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Company: Wells, Rich and Greene
Key success traits: High profile; trendy creativity; strong ethics; a stickler for quality.
Mary Lawrence was the first woman chief of a major ad agency and the first woman to take her company public on the New York Stock Exchange.