Mary Wells Lawrence named Cannes Lions’ first female recipient of the Lion of St. Mark
Legendary agency creative and founder Mary Wells Lawrence has been named the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’s’ 2020 winner of the Lion of St. Mark, making her the first female recipient of the honor.
The award honors advertising execs’ lifetime of stellar creative contributions in communications and was instituted by the festival in 2011. Wells Lawrence is preceded by BBH co-founder Sir John Hegarty, the inaugural honoree, followed by Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Joe Pytka, Bob Greenberg, Marcello Serpa, David Droga, Piyush Pandey and Prasoon Pandey and Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein.
Wells Lawrence led a life of many “firsts” in the industry. She was the first woman to open, own and run a major ad agency—New York’s Wells, Rich, Greene in 1966; the first female CEO of a company traded on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange; and at age 40, the youngest person ever inducted into the Copywriters’ Hall of Fame.
Her resume ticks off some of advertising’s seminal campaigns, including Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz," “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” and “Try It, You'll Like It”; Ford Motor Co.’s “Quality Is Job 1,” New York City’s iconic tourism slogan, “I love New York”; and Braniff Airlines’ “The End of the Plain Plane," which injected lively, modern-day style into the category through everything from branding and design to flight attendants’ Pucci uniforms.
Wells Lawrence was born Mary Georgene Berg in Youngstown, Ohio in 1928. She began her ad career as a copywriter at McKelvey’s department store in Ohio and moved to New York City, where she went on to work at other retailers including Macy's, where she landed a job as fashion advertising manager. In 1953 she entered the agency world as a writer at McCann-Erickson and continued to move up the ladder, with stops at DDB and Jack Tinker & Partners before opening WRG. Within its first year, the agency reached 100 employees and $39 million in billings and by its first decade, it had $187 million in billings and a client list that included Prccter & Gamble, TWA, Philip Morris, Midas, Ralston Purina, White-Westinghouse Electric Co., Miles Laboratories and the Sun Oil Co.
“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,” Wells Lawrence said in a statement. “I want to leave you feeling about it—nervous if you are doing something else. Like falling in love.”
“Mary is an extraordinary woman with a drive, passion and talent to burn,” said Philip Thomas, chairman, Cannes Lions. "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.”
While the Cannes Lions canceled its festival in France this year, it will be honoring Wells Lawrence on Friday June 26 as part of LIONS Live, its online platform featuring live-streamed and on-demand content, running from June 22-26.