About AEF | Newsletter | Site Map | Legal | Advanced Search
Print Version

Interviews of Three Female Advertising Executives

The 2011 AEF Honors Night was the largest ever. It was also, as it happened, the first time all three honorees were women: Linda Sawyer of Deutsch, Jo Ann Ross of CBS, and Mary Wells, founder of Wells Rich Green. AEF also honored a student, Rebecca Centanni of Bowdoin College, in its first ever essay competition.  

Advertising & Society Review receives a large number of submissions from female scholars worldwide, who are often focusing on advertising issues affecting women. So it seemed fitting to commemorate this landmark in AEF's history by featuring the honorees  from 2011. We are grateful to Mary Wells, Rebecca Centanni, Jo Ann Ross, and Linda Sawyer for their willingness and availability in making this happen.

Our first interview in this issue is with the incomparable Mary Wells. I met with Mary in Monte Carlo because she now lives primarily on her boat, traveling from place to place, enjoying her community of friends along the Mediterranean. Those who have read Mary's passionate, articulate autobiography will be pleased to see how her energy and creativity have blossomed in her life post-WRG, pulling her into leading digital era projects such as the launch of wowOwow, an Internet site engaged with intelligent, accomplished women. 
Linda Sawyer's story is an unusual one. As a child, she was fascinated by her father's work. He was a package designer for cosmetics companies. So, unlike many girls of her era, Linda grew up knowing she wanted a career and with a clear idea of what she wanted her work to be - not a nurse or a teacher, but a marketing executive.

Jo Ann Ross says she stumbled into her career in a search to find work that would leave her weekends free. Now, in spite of a fast-paced life that has put her at some of the biggest media events of our time, this top CBS executive is still guarding weekends. 

Yet it is clear that, like Mary Wells, both Sawyer and Ross are passionate about their work, dedicated to their organizations, and devoted to their colleagues. I am pleased that AEF has provided this opportunity to document these three important women, especially because we usually know very little about the advertising women of the past, like Helen Landsdowne Resor or Helen Woodward. Having the freedom to use the platform of Advertising & Society Review to document people and campaigns important to this industry is a key step toward ensuring historical data future scholars can use.

The essay Rebecca Centanni submitted to win this year's competition reminds us how important it is for future historians to be able to look back at the evolution of material culture and the role of advertising in it, to make sense of who we have become as a society. In the context of this issue, the familial ideology that Centanni documents using ads from Life magazine shows us dramatically just how unusual women like Wells and, later, Sawyer and Ross were. This astute essay, therefore, serves as an important frame for the whole issue.

Linda M. Scott

Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.