Fast Chat: Jane Maas

Agency vet discusses her new book on the lives of '60s 'Mad Women'

Jane Maas would like to be counted among the founding mothers of advertising. A copywriter who started at Ogilvy & Mather in the 1960s, she rose to be a creative director before going on to top creative positions at shops including Wells Rich Greene, where she worked on the famous “I Love New York” state tourism campaign. At age 80, she still consults for clients like liquor conglomerate Brown-Forman and Madison Square Garden Corporation. She’s also just kicked off a 40-city tour promoting her third book, Mad Women, a look back at how the agency old boys' club treated the fairer sex. Adweek caught up with Maas to reflect on her stories from the creative revolution—and get her perspective on what’s changed for women since.

Adweek: Good timing with the title (Season 5 of Mad Men premieres March 25). What exactly is Mad Women about?

Jane Maas: Women's status [in the workplace] is the serious spine of the book. Sex in the office, and martinis, and how we dressed, and how we acted is mostly fun. But the status of women is kind of the one serious issue.

You write a fair amount about prioritizing your professional life over your personal life. Tell us a little about that?

I’m afraid it hasn’t changed all that much. … I do a lot of talking on college campuses, and the young women there, the first question they ask is, “How am I going to handle being a wife, a mother and a career person?” I tell them, “Well if you want to have a career, you are going to have to work harder than the man in the office to your left and the man in the office to your right.” And there’s still no question about that. If you’re going to be married and have children and have a career, then there’s going to be a juggling act …

I said I put my career first, my husband second and my children third. That was true because my career was terribly important to me. Not that my children and my husband weren’t. But I had to set priorities. That sounds very, very hard-hearted and terrible, but if I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing.

What are the new challenges for women trying to make it in advertising?

I think we’re still coping with the old challenges. Particularly for working mothers, this business of being torn into all sorts of priorities continues. For working mothers, in fact, I think it’s getting harder because advertising agencies, as they’ve been shrinking and fighting more for survival and for enough profit to keep going, I think they’re asking fewer people to do more. I think the hours have gotten longer—at least this is what I’m picking up from my young friends who are still working. I think it’s a much tougher area in many ways than it was in the '60s, when we had more people and the clients weren’t changing agencies every six months.

Are there any ways you think it’s gotten easier for women?

I think men’s consciousness has definitely been raised—and maybe because it’s “You’d better treat women better, otherwise you’re going to get a sexual harassment suit against you”—but men are treating women with more respect in the workplace without any question. I think men are more accepting of women in the workplace. [In the book] I told the story of being the first woman copywriter assigned to the American Express Card business, and the account executives said, “Well Jane, the brand guys are kind of worried about a woman being on the account. They think if they turn down your ads, you’ll cry. You may be met with a little bit of hostility when you go down there for this first meeting.” And we go down there for the meeting and the big boss CEO pulls out a chair for me and shakes my hand warmly, and I think this isn’t going to be so bad as I thought and he says, “Did you forget your steno pad, dear?”

Worse than you thought.

Yes, obviously. I think men are also much more helpful at home than they were in the '60s. A man in the '60s didn’t dry a dish, put away a dish, ever prepare a meal—he certainly didn’t diaper a baby. And now I think men are doing all of this and are much, much more—not only accepting, but also agreeable—to doing household chores.

You worked with advertising icon Mary Wells Lawrence. What was the most important thing you learned from her?

Extraordinary self-discipline. In the book, I described [one night], we were rehearsing for a very big, very important new business pitch the next day. … It took us about three hours to get through the presentation because of all of Mary’s very careful coaching. It was 11 o’clock, and I know we were all thinking: “Oh thank god, now we can all go home.” Mary stood up and said, “OK, now let’s do it again, and this time let’s get it right.” Mary never let herself look tired. She never let herself look worried. She always was beautifully dressed and coiffed and poised, so I learned a lot from her about that.

Did you win?

No, we didn’t. I was wondering if you were going to ask me that.

Force of habit. Shirley Polykoffthe writer behind the famous “Does she … or doesn’t she?” 1956 Clairol hair-dye sloganhad some pointed advice for you, too.

It was in the '80s I think, and she was working [at] an advertising benefit of some kind. She called me over to the booth she was working in, and she said, “Jane, I think you’re going to be a very successful person, and I want to give you a little bit of advice. Get the money before they screw you like they screwed me.” Because she felt that Foote Cone and Clairol had absolutely made millions and millions, and she had not gotten her share.

You say in the bookand this is a quotethat “women are lousy mentors.” What would you want to see successful ad women doing differently?

We have not yet learned to network and support each other the way men do. I look at my men friends in the business and how hard they work to help young men come up in the business, and I think women—certainly then and still now—have had such a job climbing up the ladder, that the more successful a women is (and there are exceptions to this) … the more she tends not to mentor, the more she tends to think: “Well I made it, baby, now let’s see how you do it.”

What’s your sense of the “Most Powerful Women” lists that many magazines publish. Are those helpful?

Well, you still don’t see lists of the most powerful men in advertising, or the most powerful men in [blank]. … You see the lists of the most powerful people. I would like to see us reach the time when we stop saying, “The first woman to do so and so.” We still see this every day, and I think the lists of the 20 most important women in this, and the 30 most important women in that still smack of that kind of segregation. Although, when they draw up these lists, if I’m not on them, it bothers me a lot …

Adweek will have to keep that in mind next time we do one.

[Laughs} Well, I turned 80 last week, so I’m getting past the point of being the most important woman in this, that or the other. A list of founding mothers of advertising … I’d have to make that, otherwise I’d jump out of my window.

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.