The following essay first appeared on Sharp Skirts, for which I’m eternally grateful. I love you ladies. Mwah!
For 18 years now, I’ve made a living as an advertising copywriter. If you don’t know what an advertising copywriter does, watch Peggy Olson on Mad Men.
Only without the panty hose and pointy bras.
That show resonates for people in advertising as much as it does with the general public because it gives a more accurate portrayal of our business than we’ve ever seen in fictional dramas. We don’t sketch ideas out with markers as much anymore. We don’t have three-Martini lunches. We don’t blow smoke rings in the office. But other than that, not much has changed in the way we come up with advertising ideas and how we sell those ideas to clients.
Unfortunately, there also hasn’t been much change in the numbers that skew toward male-domination in the ad biz. To this day, women represent only 3% of creative departments in this business. How sad is that?
On Mad Men, you’ll notice that Peggy is the only woman in the creative department. I’ll say it again. I’m Peggy. I have been Peggy several times over.
When I was hired at Crispin, Porter & Bogusky in 1997, I was told that I was the first female writer on their creative staff. The company was founded in 1965.
In 1999, when I moved back to Los Angeles and was hired by Ground Zero Advertising, I was also the first woman on the creative staff. They had been operating for five years.
Those statistics astounded me. But what astounded me more was that I was expected to be proud of this. It was told to me with enthusiasm. The first woman in the creative department! Whoo Hoo!
I had a hard time being happy for me when I was so sad for my gender. Taking five years to hire a woman for your creative staff is just pathetic.
Those aren’t the only two times I’ve been hired because “we need more women on the account.” Or because the agency wants to go after a female-targeted business, which let’s face it, aren’t most businesses female-targeted businesses? And they can’t rightfully go into a new business meeting to talk smartly about what makes a woman tick without a woman present.
So I represented. I built a career out of it, as well as some resentment. I bitched and moaned (isn’t that what women do?).
But then I did another thing that women do best. I embraced it.
It helped that in 2007 I fell prey to one of the biggest layoffs in GSD&M history. So what did I do? I started my own agency.
The truth is, by this point I had grown sick and tired of watching agencies waste precious client dollars trying to figure out how to speak to women, only to ignore the womanly advice the clients paid for and make decisions with their dicks. Because in every creative department that actually has female employees, there is rarely a woman in charge of that final decision.
And that has to change.
If you want to know how to speak to women through your advertising messages, you can’t just hire women. You have to put a woman at the helm.
Now I make my living helping other female-owned and targeted businesses speak to women in a voice that doesn’t require any extra research dollars. We come by that knowledge naturally. So that knowledge is free.
And for me, it’s also freeing.