Women Sold on the Advertising Industry

Julie Shenkman
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Since its inception, the advertising industry has been on the receiving end of critical body blows, with famous one-liners like H.G. Wells’ “Advertising is legalized lying.” Nevertheless, it plays a large role in the American and world economy, and is a necessary and rewarding career for many women, who make up almost half the workers in the industry.  Like many white-collar industries, the corporate structure in advertising has had to deal with its own glass ceiling. While advertising hasn’t completely shattered that ceiling, there are many women in the industry that have attained high-powered positions that has certainly put more than a few cracks in that glass. Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy and Mather, is certainly the most prominent. Lazarus is dubbed “the most powerful woman in advertising,” running one of the biggest ad agencies in the world with clients like American Express, Mattel and IBM. Lazarus, who has been ranked consistently as one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, took over the company in 1997 and knows a thing or two about the highs and lows of the industry.  “The advertising business is very capricious,” she said in a recent Newsweek magazine article. “Clients say, ‘I don’t like this idea so much. I’m going to go to a different agency.’ You think you’re not going to take it personally, but it does take a little bit out of you. And that’s because you give yourself to it emotionally. That’s just how I am. And if you’re seasoned and experienced and all of that, you just pick you pick yourself up and carry on, but it is personal.” The riggers of the ad business are well documented, and go beyond being the target of unflattering quips. The business has a reputation for high stress, low entry salaries and long hours. But the business continues to thrive, likely because advertising is something that will always be part of our society, especially in the U.S. It affects our daily lives without us even knowing it. There are an estimated 6,000 advertising agencies in the United States working to create content for all forms of media, including the Internet, newspaper, radio and television.  Women have come to play a major role in advertising agencies simply because they are so important as targets of the advertising. “If you take out financial products and cars, 75% of all purchase decisions are made by women,” Peter Souter, one of London’s top creative directors, recently told Ideasfactory.com. “They are the person who says, ‘we’re having that one.’ ” If women have the purchasing power, they certainly can have a major influence in the advertising business. The basics of an industry job start with the account executive. The position requires the AE to work as a liaison between client and the ad agency. The AE is responsible for understanding and defining what a client wants to achieve, makes sure budgets are kept and ensures that the creative department is on target and on time with each part of the project.  

Copywriters, artists and production positions fill the slots in the creative department. These jobs bring the substance to any ad campaign through writing, photography, graphic art, illustrations and film. Some agencies also employ media planners, researchers and specialty departments like outdoor, director response and Internet advertising.


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  • Keyon
    Great post!

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