MadWomen of Madison Avenue Convene for Kudos

Madison Avenue's Don(na) Drapers, minus the booze and dark past -- as much as I could tell -- came together recently at industry bible Advertising Age's annual Women to Watch luncheon, held in partnership with Advertising Women of New York (AWNY). There were fabulous women being honored, star performers from both client and agency sides -- talented professionals who haven't faced quite the uphill battle of Mad Men's Peggy Olsen, and some -- division Presidents, CMOs and COOs -- who appear to have prevailed over the dapper Draper's in their paths.

The afternoon's opening remarks included a rumination on whether it's still necessary or appropriate to celebrate women. Is it anachronistic? Does it ghettoize? Female songwriters and authors have often complained about being on "best of" lists for women in their fields -- why not just be considered among all authors and musicians? And while 40% of AWNY's members are men (who knew? I would've worn contacts and had my hair blown out) the conclusion was that we still need to single out female over-achievers. Among the many wonders of Mad Men, it reminds us of how far we have come. If our current Mad Women lived in the age of cigarettes, scotch, and unassailable ass-pinching in the office, there would be no one to celebrate at this luncheon. Poor Peggy, in last week's episode, didn't even get invited to the CLIOs for the campaign she created, nor was she cited or thanked when her agency won. But despite the difference 45 years make, females are still woefully underrepresented in the management and creative stratospheres of the advertising industry.

So, it's OK to single ourselves out. We're still a minority. Minorities celebrate themselves, they need to. Of course, we'd have a cow if there was a "Men to Watch" luncheon. Rightly, we'd rail at the iniquity and shout to be included. But then, men have always been in the majority, so I guess they forfeit the right to complain?

I found I behaved differently at this event than I would at a male dominated event, which most business events are. I would never introduce myself by going up to a man and telling him I liked his suit. I'd say hello, extend my hand, say my name, what I do, yada yada. Yet at this event my opening salvo was several times "I LOVE your dress." And I wasn't lying, there were some fabulous dresses. It is indeed a great ice-breaker -- who doesn't like a compliment? -- and we went on to discuss business.

I thought about this later. Had I been sexist, unprofessional? Was I denigrating my own kind by reverting to girly stuff? Maybe. But maybe it's just the natural introductory shorthand one has with one's own kind. Not that all women like talking about clothes, but maybe it's the equivalent of men small talking sports. Or humans talking about the weather. But it was a win-win. I made some good contacts and found out where to buy a certain dress I must have.

I was surprised to hear one of the celebrants talk about the importance of female intuition, a hidden strength she believes women have. Are we allowed to say that? Isn't that sexist? It was a Brit who said it -- I don't think an American would've ventured into those un-PC waters. And is it true? I'm sure men would not like to think that we're more perceptive than they are. Anyway, long before Malcolm Gladwell's Blink theory of rapid cognition in decision making it was opined that there's no such thing as "divined" intuition - it is just careful observation and attention to detail, a certain sensitivity to others and what's going on around you. And a subconscious processing of the information ending in a "feeling," a hunch. A covert intellectual exercise. So is one sex better at "Blinking" than another? Heresy!

On the business side of things, there was little predicting and, thankfully, little talk of last year's blood bath. The honorees spoke more on strategy and tactics -- the overriding theme was about the ever increasing importance of integration -- cross-platform marketing, no more working in silos -- and of course, social media. The creatives spoke of the evergreen need to connect emotionally with people and to make their lives better. An account exec said the account side needs to market itself better. Yes, they do need some PR help, don't they? Admit it, when you meet someone in the industry your next question is "creative or account?" and when they say "account," you're disappointed. You just say, "oh, that's nice," and then drum up enough interest to ask what accounts they handle. Unfair, I'm sure.

Despite the dismal past year there were, of course, successes. The fast food chain marketer who turned around her company's business with the addition of cappuccinos to the menu. The cinema ad sales exec -- possibly the only really happy media sales person in the room -- because movie attendance has been buoyant throughout the recession. It's cheap, it's local, it's hyper targeted. And a slew of 3D cinema ads are on the way to accompany the scores of 3D films being produced. I also spoke with a chemical engineer working on a top secret project that will add another ad space to supermarkets. After this, only the floor will be left unbranded, though I'm sure not for long. Women still rule the supermarket, and many family buying decisions. It only makes sense that they should rule the advertising industry, too.