‘Mad Men’ era Mary Wells is a Cannes Lion of St Mark

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Mary Wells Lawrence, now 92, has been named the this year’s Lion of St Mark by Cannes Lions, even though, sadly for her and those of us who would have liked to see her, there won’t be an actual bricks, mortar and rosé festival.

Cannes Lions chairman Philip Thomas says: “Mary is an extraordinary woman with a drive, passion and talent to burn. Cannes Lions campaigns for creativity as a force for business but Mary was ahead of the game – she already knew this 50 years ago.

“Her ability to inject entertainment and creativity into her advertising saw her transform the reputations and revenues of many a struggling brand, and she has earned huge respect and admiration from the industry as a result. We’re thrilled to be presenting a true legend with the Lion of St. Mark.”

Wells Lawrence (above) says: “Awareness of the time you are in is at the core of any business of persuasion, but I think my particular strength is my belief in passion – caring obviously and emotionally about how important what I am selling is. I want to leave you feeling about it – nervous if you are doing something else. Like falling in love.”

There you go. Mary Wells, as she was when she started Wells Rich Greene, was an in-store fashion ad copywriter before becoming ad manager of Macy’s. She then worked as a writer, most notably at the legendary DDB New York, before starting her own agency. Wells Rich Greene was floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 1968, making her the first female CEO of a NYSE company.

So Mary didn’t just break the mould she practically invented it. Impossibly glamorous (there must be a Mary in Mad Men somewhere) she showed formidable account handling skills too, even marrying one of her biggest clients, Harding Lawrence of Braniff Airlines.

For Braniff she re-designed just about everything – it seems to have been the Virgin Atlantic of its day – illustrated here.

Not very MeToo for current tastes but look at the art direction: the DDB influence. Neil Godfrey’s work at the UK’s CDP, which we referenced yesterday, is from the same clear and striking school.

Other famous clients included Alka-Seltzer and New York itself, unwittingly launching zillions of tacky imitations (in the video below.).

WRG was eventually bought by acquisitive French agency BDDP.

So Mary really was (and is) a legend and an imaginative choice by Cannes Lions.

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