Through the Scope

I think we often wonder, “if we had the opportunity to teach something to our younger selves, what would it be?”.  To take advantage of time? To slow down? To speed up? To achieve that elusive “balance” everyone seems to be searching for? What is the most useful piece of advice out there and how do you put a value on it?  Seemingly, in present moments, it’s hard to separate yourself from those experiences and chalk them up to be valuable. But what happens when we strip away the glamorous points and are left in the lurches of more troubling times?  Do we fall victim to those moments of tribulation or should we still keep their tally and consider them monumental or significant? It’s hard to see your path through a wide lens, so speaking to those who have paved the trail before us and have seen the scope of their successes seems to be something we all can agree is beneficial. 

“Listen to your elders advice.  Not because they are always right, but because they have more experiences being wrong.” - unknown

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Mary Lou Pritchett, an advertising executive from BBDO, Ogilvy and Mather, and The Boston Group, who reflected on her 35 years in the business.  I asked her to sum up the value of her time in the industry which started in the 1970’s and ended well into the 2000’s. She boiled it down to the most significant points that helped shape her wildly successful career; one part formulated in the the infancy of her career and the other, inspired by using that wide angle lens we wish we had.

“Show up, work harder, put in the time, never feel entitled and lastly, always stand up for yourself.  Keep your network close and coddle those relationships as if they were the most important assets in your arsenal because you never know when you will have to dig deep and reach out to those resources.”.

Starting her advertising career in New York City in the 1970’s was certainly a different time than it is now, for any woman let alone one who was trying to carve a path for herself in an industry dominated by men.  But nevertheless she persisted and started as a temp at BBDO, which, at the time, was the largest ad agency in the U.S. and the world’s 2nd largest.  By the time she was 26 she became the agency’s youngest Vice President, male or female, in the company's history. Here is where she learned to put in the time (16 hour days), show up (because no one is going to do it for you), work harder (give it your all and then give it some more), and never feel entitled (nothing is less appealing or worthy of praise than unearned credit).  And the last bit - the one about standing up for yourself - well, she certainly learned how to do that the hard way.  While working at BBDO she was promoted to Account Executive of one of their largest brands, Clearasil; a job she was promoted to because the male who held the position before her had been asked by the client to be removed from the project.  Certainly a major coup for women in the industry since most female executives were in copywriting (because back then, who seemingly knew more about household and beauty products than women), while the men ruled account management (the “front man”, handling the face-to-face relationship with the client).  After working for roughly a year with her new title, she discovered that sexism and discriminaiton within the company ran deep:

I was very happy in the job for about a year when I inadvertently found out that he {the male executive before her} was being paid twice, TWICE, what I was being paid!  I felt so unfairly treated that I went out and got a job at another ad agency for the salary I wanted.  As soon as I tendered my resignation, BBDO volunteered to match the offer. But for me it was too late. Clearly I was worth the salary, but the fact that BBDO had not recognized that fact and given me the raise I earned, I felt that they were basically stealing well deserved money from me.  As it turned out, I didn't like the new job or ad agency and BBDO badly wanted me to return.  Clearly they got the message that wage discrimination does not work to their advantage, so I went back to run the Gillette account (one of the largest in the agency) for even more money than I was making at the new job.  The moral of the story?  Sometimes you have to play hardball. 

After spending 20 years in advertising she took a much needed reprieve to stay at home and be a full-time mom, but after about 5 years, her itch to work came roaring back and this is where she discovered the 2nd most valuable piece of advice: reach into your network.  During this interim time she had moved from NYC to Boston and her connections in the business world had been mostly left behind. How was she going to jump back into the game after all this time? Could those relationships she had spent so many years nurturing still be revived?  The only way to find out is to reach out; and that is exactly what she did.

After about five years of enjoying being a stay-at-home mom, I began to miss working.  At about this time I decided to reconnect with an old colleague of mine from Ogilvy and Mather in New York.  He had previously moved to Boston to become Creative Director of one of Boston's largest ad agencies, but was currently freelancing.  So I reached out and we decided to have lunch. During this lunch "The Boston Group" was born and we had a very successful decade long run before we sold our shares to our third partner.

Our company's success was based almost solely on our ability to reach back into the past and rekindle old relationships that we each had developed over our careers.  These relationships either directly resulted in business for us, or we used them to network to other potential clients.

One of the most important lessons I learned when I returned to the workforce after a five year hiatus was just how important past connections and relationships can be to any new endeavor.

During those pivotal moments that spanned over 3 decades, Mary Lou may not have realized at the time, but she was collecting snippets of precious knowledge that would shape the most valuable experiences throughout her career.  In those dark instances of discrimination she could have thrown in the proverbial towel and remained quiet and complacent, but she didn’t; instead stood her ground and never let anyone take advantage of her well deserved and hard earned success.  And later, when she wanted to return to the business, she reached out to the people who stood by and supported her. So, to those of us that may feel defeated or stuck: remember to look well into the scope of the wide angle lens, keep those precious relationships close, work hard, show up, surrender your entitlement and always stand up for yourself.  Take a deeper look at every moment because you never know what will bring you success and what will leave a lasting impression for later down the road.


(**Fun fact:  This inspiring, total rockstar of a woman is my mom.  They say inspiration starts at home and for me that could not have been more true.)