Friday, 31 August 2012

Book Review: Mad Women by Jane Maas

I won't lie. I poured through AMC's hit drama Mad Men on Netflix in the matter of a few weeks when I first discovered it. There was something strangely captivating about the 1960s-era advertising world with its rampant sexism, unabashed adultery and the excitement of the creative revolution. It was addictive.

However, the more compelling aspect of life on Madison Avenue for me was the rise of the women at the Sterling Cooper agency - the push back of Peggy Olson's unbridled determination and the startling strength and competence of Joan Harris. I couldn't help but be a little inspired by how these women overcame the obstacles of the male-dominated power structures that threatened to keep them down.

In the riveting and oftentimes humourous book Mad Women, advertising vet Jane Maas chronicles her own experiences as a copywriter on Madison Avenue, shedding light on issues such as unequal pay, the prevalence of chauvinism, and the difficult choice women faced between motherhood and careers. Not so glamourous, after all.

On "unequal pay":
"Of course we didn't make the same salary as a man with the same title, even if we knew we were doing a better job. We didn't even have equal space - the guys got offices with windows; we got cubicles."

It certainly came as no surprise to me that women had unequal rights back in Jane's heyday. It was, however, interesting to hear about how female copywriters weren't allowed to be placed on male accounts. Instead their opinions were only valued when it came down to developing campaigns for feminine products - hair dye, tampons, kitchen appliances. Credit cards and cars? Leave it to the guys. Women weren't even taken seriously as consumers most of the time.

On "sexual harassment" in the workplace:
"That phrase was simply not in our vocabularies. Women who complained were usually ostracized. You were expected to handle things like this without making a big fuss about it."

I found the depiction of sexual harassment in the workplace in the 1960s startling. Not only were women expected to tolerate it, they were even encouraged to comply if it could result in a move up the corporate ladder. There was certainly some incentive to become sexually involved with someone above your post. More importantly, there was reason not to complain even if the advancements were unwelcome. Putting your job in jeopardy just wasn't worth it.

On "working mothers":
"Most working mothers were on the job seven days a week. We were professionals Monday through Friday from nine A.M. until whatever time we could get home; we were wives and mothers and housewives the rest of the time. And we were tired. We were almost always tired. It really didn't matter how much status you had at the office, or how much money you made. It was still the woman's job to make sure that the household ran smoothly, that the kids did their homework, that there was a good dinner on the table (even if she didn't cook it)."

Jane does an extraordinary job of bring to the forefront the oxymoron of the "working mother" in the 1960s, and for me, this was the best aspect of her book. According to her, working mothers were looked upon with a sort of pity and disdain. Women were simply expected to stay at home and raise their children, and for those who decided to work, facing scrutiny and judgement was a given. Instead of admitting you took the day off to take care of a sick child, you lied to your boss and pretended you were the sick one. Watching your daughter's dance recital on your lunch break? Better not make it public news unless you wanted to be ridiculed and embarrassed. It was all about the catch-22. As a working mom, you were frowned upon by your colleagues for not taking your work seriously enough and punished by other women for not devoting all your time to being a mom.

Jane's interviews of current day working moms are even more intriguing. Guess what? We're still struggling to do it all. The statements made are eerily similar to those made by career women in the 1960s. Even today, working moms seem to be plagued by guilt. We constantly worry if we're fulfilling all our duties and obligations as wife and mother and career woman to the best of our abilities. We're still exhausted and overwhelmed, pulled in a million different directions with a to-do list that never ends. We still seem to hate to ask our men for help and try to manage all our work and family-related tasks independently, even if it costs us our sanity and well-being in the end. Jane's quite candid about the fact that we still have a long way to go and I think she's right.

This book was a compelling account of life on the other side of Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Jane's voice is thoughtful and always entertaining. If you're interested in this time period, the advertising world or working women in the 1960s, I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A Little Weekend Inspiration

Whether you're heading to the cottage this weekend to soak up the last little bit of summer or you'll be getting reacquainted with your couch and Netflix (I know I'm planning on the latter), here's a little inspiration to kickstart your weekend...

Read about this inspirational photography project from freelance photo travel journalist, Sivan Askayo, which helps to give New York tourists memories that will last them a lifetime.

I told myself I would stop buying stuff off Etsy whenever the impulse struck me and then I stumbled across this wicked print...

Yeah, I bought it. So sue me.
This hair tutorial from Cup of Joe is so cute. I tried it out one day this week and it offered a simple, laid back look. It's hard to go wrong with this one whether you're styling your hair for the office or a night out on the town.
This neat-o suitcase diy project. I'm thinking I might give it a whirl!
Photo c/o Design Sponge
One of my new favourite career girl websites! All my fellow business ladies should check it out.
This blog about healthy eating on a budget. The website is chock full of scrumptious recipes and helpful advice.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

MIA Excuse

Hello folks.

I apologize for my lack of posting this week. Unfortunately, someone gave me the cooties and I've been chained to my couch the past several days with a flu bug. Thankfully, the time off has given me the chance to take unflattering self-portraits on my webcam of my recently dyed and cut hair, because you know...being sick is all about being productive with your down time.

I'll be back in action tomorrow, but in the meantime, feel free to check out my favourite YouTube video ever.

Warning: The above link is related to monkeys (I have an unhealthy obsession) and is most certainly could be a total waste of your time.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Reasons I Love Hamilton #2

Hamilton may be known as steel city, but we're also the waterfall capital of the world. Yes, folks - the world! I've gotten the chance to visit many of these scenic spots over the last couple of years, but my favourites are definitely Sherman Falls and Albion Falls.

Our Hamilton waterfalls are so beautiful, in fact, that you can hardly tell how severely lacking my photography skills are from the pictures below. They seem to look stunning no matter what.

Albion Falls
Tiffany Falls in the winter

If you're from the area and you're interested in learning more, just visit Hamilton Waterfalls for trail information and maps.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Art & Copy

"Good advertising makes food taste better. It makes cars run better. It changes everything" ~ George Lois

Art & Copy is a highly intriguing social and cultural documentary available on Netflix which offers an in-depth study of the inner workings of the minds of modern advertising giants, explores the question of whether or not advertising should be taken seriously as art, and discusses the experimental and intensive nature of the creative process.

When you think about it, ads are really the most focused form of communication out there. While Art & Copy does a poor job of addressing newer web elements of advertising, the movie does a great job of addressing the emotional impact of ads and how celebrating a brand in a truthful and artful manner can be meaningful. Not all advertising should be considered "pollution", although much of it is.

Successful advertising is, as discussed in the movie, "strong ideas presented simply". It's about being risky and trying to be authentic, as well as ensuring the corporate mission lines up with something the customer supports (i.e. Nike endorsing physical fitness at all levels, from the everyday jogger to the professional athlete).

My favourite elements of the documentary were the interviews with the 1960s "mad women" Phyllis Robinson and Mary Wells who proved that women had a fundamental role amongst the men that saturated the industry and had the talent and creativity to oversee impressive accounts like Clairol and Braniff Airlines.

I also really loved how nontraditional approaches to advertising gained such repute, including the Volkswagen Beetle's marketing campaign of humility ("Think Small") and the risky billboard that launched the Tommy Hilfiger name overnight. I appreciated learning how Nike's "Just Do It" slogan was inspired by the final words of Gary Gilmore just prior to being executed, how Apple's revolutionary Mac computer commercial made such an impact without actually unveiling the product itself, and how the "got milk?" line was fought tooth and nail before it skyrocketed milk sales. It was also really fun to get a sneak peak onto some of the most well-recognized ad agencies out there and witness how creative individuals operate within these structures.

If you're interested in how advertising can be recognized as an art form for its compelling social effects - its true ability to make people feel something - this is a great movie to check out and I'd highly recommend it.

Are there other Netflix documentaries that have met with your approval? Please feel free to share!

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Little Weekend Inspiration

Happy Weekend everyone!

Here's a little inspiration to fill your day...

This cute DIY spool hook project to hang jewelry:

This blog post on "schlepping" (aka carrying around way too much crap, or to put it more nicely, the ultimate urban workout) which discusses the physical benefits it actually offers. As a city dweller who commutes by public transit, I'm all too familiar with lugging around what feels like half my weight in groceries in the pouring rain. Makes you feel a bit better better about my unintentional workouts, right?

Peggy from Mad Men. She is seriously my hero, and not just because she's a wicked copywriter, but because she acts as inspiration to all the ladies out there struggling to find their place in arenas still dominated by men. Her success is earned by hard work, taking risks, creativity and perseverance.

What happens when a 6-year-old girl judges a book by its cover? This. Guaranteed to make you laugh!

This blazer from ModCloth (so cute for the office!):

This recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I tried it this weekend and it was to die for.

I'm off to the cottage for the weekend for some fun in the waves, beach fires, smores and good company! Hope you've got something just as awesome in store.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Blog Crush: A Cup of Jo.

Picture c/o Cup Of Joe

Cup of Joe is one of my favourite current reads. Joanna Goddard is a successful writer and female entrepreneur with a down to earth, casual voice that makes me feel like I'm chatting with one of my oldest friends over coffee.

I really love the diversity of information on Joanna's blog. She's got loads of awesome hair tutorials, beautiful photographs of New York that make me swoon, delicious recipes (I've tried some!), lovely advice about motherhood and creative inspiration coming out the wazoo.

Her recent Blogging as a Career article was a remarkable read, documenting the evolution of her career and the challenges she faced along the way. I also enjoy her "have a nice weekend" posts which list a medley of wonderful links that always get my creative juices flowing for the week to come.

You should probably go check her out. And if you have any suggestions on some blogs I should check out, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The "A" Word

"The point is we are all selling. We are all in advertising. It is part of life." ~ Paul Arden

When someone I just meet asks me what I do, I tell them I'm a copywriter. This usually prompts a "what's that?" and I try in my head to craft this romantic description of what I really do which in its rawest form is advertising. I think about copping out with "I sell stuff" but then commit to my standard elevator pitch: "I help businesses communicate more effectively and build long-term relationships with their customers, thereby increasing their bottom line."

You'll notice nowhere in that descriptor do I use the words "sell" or "advertise" or even "market". Why? Advertising has become a dirty word. It's associated with someone who tries to sell people things they don't want. Having "writer" in my job title has always managed to give me some elevated bohemian status in most people's eyes, but as soon as I start using descriptors like "marketing" or "advertising", I can see the ewww surface in their expressions as they start associating me with the evil salesperson. You know, those sleazy in-your-face jerks who come knocking on your door or call you at that exact moment you sit down to eat dinner? Yeah, I hate them too.

I don't like to be accused of "selling out" because I'm not a 'real journalist' or a 'real writer'. To anyone who has done this, I apologize for becoming a brat and ranting at you, but you kinda deserved it. I've written for newspapers and magazines and non-profits. I've written poetry and short stories. I'm published in local and national publications. I've written for a diverse range of mediums in more forms than I can count. Is the speech I wrote for a college director or the website content I did for a trade company somehow less legit than the article I wrote for a fundraiser? I just don't see how.

I don't like to think of myself as a traditional "salesperson", but yes, I am selling something. I sell the brands, products and services of my clients by telling their stories, using relationship-building strategies and letting everyone know how awesome they are. That's what I'm paid to do and I truly love my job.

The truth is, I believe in advertising. Without it, some of my clients who deserve every success they have achieved would not be where they are today. And in the end, as much as we may hate to admit it, we're all selling something.

Have you ever tried on ten outfits before deciding on the sexy black dress, slathered on lipstick and curled your hair for a first date? Aren't you selling yourself?

Have you cleaned your car before selling it? Aren't you trying to show it at its best?

Do you love yoga and not even hesitate to fork out dough for a membership with your local studio? Have you noticed how they're selling a particular lifestyle and mindset?

Not everyone may be in the advertising and marketing field of work as I am, but whether it's a product, service, impression of oneself or belief system, we're all trying to sell something. And that's perfectly okay.