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Know Your Worth: 5 Legendary Lessons on International Women’s Day

3.6.24 / By Meg Lavery

This copywriter has a confession: I’ve never seen Mad Men.

I know. I’ve been told by many, many people that I absolutely must see this show. That it would make explaining my job so much easier, because I’m basically Peggy Olsen, right?

Not quite. When I ask people to describe Mad Men for me, they immediately portray the infamous boys’ club of 1960s advertising. And it sounds like the women in that show went through the wringer to be able to do what I do now.

While that storyline was set nearly 60 years ago, there are women today who remember that world clearly. Women who do empathize with Peggy. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge their experience and all they’ve done to provoke progress in our space.

But then there are women who have never lived in that world, like me. We’ve seen traces of what remains, but our experience looks very different thanks to the women who came before us. And today we work together, side by side.

We all have something to teach each other that brings value to our work. That’s why our team of creative women gathered five lessons that we all need to hear—from other creative women of past, present and future.


1. Get Brave: Mary Wells Lawrence


In 1966, Mary Wells Lawrence became the first woman to found, own and run a major agency: Wells, Rich, Greene. She was also the first woman to be CEO of a company traded on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange.


Lawrence introduced a unique style to television commercials that incorporated film and theater techniques: turning the television commercial into 60 seconds of visual entertainment with the product as the star.

While Lawrence was known for her style and charisma that disrupted the advertising industry’s creative approach, each campaign was driven by strategy and intelligence far ahead of her time. She produced creative work of substance, going on to evaluate new hires of her own agency based on merit—not gender.

“Love is the keyword. Too many ads are cold, too filled with jargon. You have to talk person to person with people. Use people words and people terms.” —Mary Wells Lawrence

2. Get Real: Janet Champ


In the early ’90s, Janet Champ was a powerhouse assistant-turned-copywriter. Her talented and touching words saved Nike from flopping with its audience of women and boosted sales through the roof.


Janet took a risk and created a narrative campaign where there was no depiction of the product, just empowering messages and realistic portrayals of her target audience. She tapped into the heart and soul of women to make them feel seen, heard and understood. That’s what we all want, right?

“The one thing you don’t do is shove a shoe in someone’s face and say ‘buy my shoe.’ You say, ‘I’m like you, I get you, I know you, let’s talk about this.’” —Janet Champ


3. Get Curious: Carol H. Williams


Carol founded Carol H Williams Advertising (CHWA) in her own living room in 1986. Today, CHWA has offices across the country, billing over $100 million annually and producing award-winning campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.


Before establishing her own agency, Carol’s creative spirit made waves. Top marketing executives competed to hire her, and she earned a position as the first female and first Black creative director and vice president at Leo Burnett Company in Chicago.

But Carol struck out on her own, recognizing a need for advertising that speaks to the sophisticated and influential Black and urban markets. Today, her diverse and skilled staff works to fill that need by asking the question “Whose eyes are you looking through when you view the world?™”

4. Get Comical: Donna Weinheim


Donna became the only female partner and creative director at Cliff Freeman & Partners, the most highly awarded agency of its time. Her campaigns for Wendy’s legendary “Where’s the Beef?” propelled the regional Ohio hamburger restaurant to #3 in the nation, won every industry award and entered the pop culture lexicon. According to New York Magazine, “Where’s the Beef?” has the “highest recall of any TV spot in the 20th century.”


Donna set the benchmark for humor that our industry still uses to this day. Her Little Caesars campaigns are some of the funniest and most copied commercials in advertising history, propelling the regional Detroit pizza chain to the third-largest pizza company in the world. And Donna’s campaign “Laugh it off with the Comedy Channel” launched the cable channel that would later become Comedy Central.


5. Get Resilient: Kim Allen


Kim Allen took over as CEO of Dixon Schwabl + Company during its first leadership transition ever—33 years after the company was founded. As the transition began, Kim also had to navigate a global pandemic that shook every one of her employees, clients and their customers.


Backed by president and colleague of 17 years Jess Savage, Kim approached the disruption with strategy and empathy. Both leaders pivoted quickly to a hybrid environment, adapting the company’s business model to meet its employees and clients where they were. With well-being at the core of her decisions, Kim’s grace under fire set a new precedent for leadership in a world forever changed.

“I’ve always been up for a challenge. Even as a young girl, all someone had to do was tell me I couldn’t. Challenge accepted.” —Kim Allen

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While only one of these women works for DS+CO, they each represent a part of the larger experience of women in advertising. And like each of the incredible women who work at our agency, these women faced challenges with an approach that was unique to them, bringing an authentic value that may be imitated, but never replicated.

60 years seems like a long time ago, but the world of Mad Men is not far behind us. As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, we acknowledge how far we’ve come since then. We celebrate the women who lead us today. And we elevate the women who are steering us all toward a better future.

We are the sum of our parts, and we couldn’t do what we do without the passion and brilliance of each person at DS+CO. This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women who bring so much value to our table—one that grows larger every day.


Meg Lavery