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Cannes Lions will honour Mary Wells Lawrence with this year’s Lion of St. Mark

Mary Wells Lawrence receives the award for her lifetime of services to creativity in communications from the 1960s. Founder of Wells Rich Greene in 1966, she was the first woman to found, own and run a major agency

Mary Wells Lawrence

Cannes Lions will present the prestigious lifetime achievement award, the Lion of St. Mark, to Mary Wells Lawrence in 2020.

Founder of the New York advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene, in 1966, Mary Wells Lawrence was the first woman to found, own and run a major agency. She was the first female CEO of a company traded on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange.

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Within its first year, Wells Rich Greene had 100 employees and $39 million in billings. By 1976, it had billings of $187 million and clients that included Procter & Gamble Co., Trans World Airlines, Miles Laboratories, Philip Morris, Bic Pen Corp., Ralston Purina Co., Midas Inc., White-Westinghouse Electric Co. and Sun Oil Co. The New York Observer said the agency was responsible for creating ads that “etched indelible phrases into the public’s imaginations.”

Mary Wells Lawrence’s pioneering career has included resurrecting New York City’s deteriorating image with the now iconic “I ♥ New York” slogan, as well as the branding of Braniff Airways into the recognised airline of the jet set with the ‘The End of the Plain Plane’; a campaign that injected a cultural mood of excitement and vitality with airplanes painted in pastel colours and the airline’s hostesses dressed in Pucci designed uniforms. About the campaign, Mary Wells Lawrence said, “It was the end of the plain plane. Airline advertising and marketing and design would never be the same. There were groans from other airlines. They complained that the paint made the planes heavy — every airline that told that silly story is now flying fleets of painted planes.”

Throughout her lifetime Wells Lawrence has directed a host of notable campaigns. Her work for Alka Seltzer, in her words, saw them plotting and scheming “to develop advertising that would seduce every man, woman and child of every age into watching Alka-Seltzer advertising — in fact, to make them look forward to watching it.” Through campaigns like ‘Plop plop, fizz fizz’, ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing’, and ‘Try it, you’ll like it’, Alka Seltzer shook its ageing image, and instead it became smart to be seen taking it.

In 1971, Lawrence was named Advertising Woman of the Year by the American Advertising Federation, and in 1999 she was inducted into the American Advertising Hall of Fame. Her autobiography, A Big Life (in Advertising), was published in 2002.

Commenting on the award, Philip Thomas, Chairman, Cannes Lions, said, “Mary is an extraordinary woman with a drive, passion and talent to burn. Cannes Lions campaigns for creativity as a force for business but Mary was ahead of the game – she already knew this 50 years ago. Her ability to inject entertainment and creativity into her advertising saw her transform the reputations and revenues of many a struggling brand, and she has earned huge respect and admiration from the industry as a result. We’re thrilled to be presenting a true legend with the Lion of St. Mark.”

Mary Wells Lawrence said, “Awareness of the time you are in is at the core of any business of persuasion, but I think my particular strength is my belief in passion — caring obviously and emotionally about how ‘important’ what I am selling is. I want to leave you ‘feeling’ about it — nervous if you are doing something else. Like falling in love.”

Mary Wells Lawrence will be honoured as The Lion of St. Mark through the Lions Live platform on June 26. Lions Live runs from June 22-26. Offering compelling live-streamed and on-demand content, the free digital platform will bring the world’s creative community together to collaborate, learn and problem-solve through a shared purpose of creativity.

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