Lawrence, Mary Wells (1928—)

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Lawrence, Mary Wells (1928—)

American advertising executive. Born Mary Georgene Wells Berg on May 25, 1928, in Youngstown, Ohio; daughter of Waldemar Berg and Violet (Meltz) Berg; attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1949; married Harding Lawrence, on November 25, 1967; children: James Lawrence; State Lawrence; Deborah Lawrence; Kathryn Lawrence; Pamela Lawrence.

Honorary LL.D., Babson College (1970), Carnegie-Mellon University (1974).

One of the few women in the 1960s to break into the male-dominated corporate ranks, Mary Wells Lawrence founded the legendary New York advertising agency Wells, Rich, Greene, Inc., in 1966 and turned it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. The creative force behind such well-known commercial catch-phrases as "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," "Try it; you'll like it," "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz," and "Friends don't let friends drive drunk," the agency in its heyday attracted the world's largest and most sophisticated clientele. Kenneth Olshan, who spent his early career at the agency and later became its chair, calls Mary Wells Lawrence "a brilliant, charismatic and glamorous leader" and claims that the enterprise was unique from the onset. "Mary was an intuitive nurturer of clients and talent," he wrote in a 1998 article for Advertising Age. "If agencies have genders, ours was feminine. It felt more like a Mediterranean family than like the typical macho boys' clubs of our larger and traditional Madison Avenue competitors of the era."

Mary Wells Lawrence got her start writing retail-store copy, then struck out on her own. Instead of pursuing the usual woman-oriented commodities like cosmetics and food, Lawrence set her sights on such "hard" profitable accounts as Braniff, Chase, Ford, Hertz, ITT, Philip Morris, Ralston Purina, and the New York Stock Exchange. She also surrounded herself with the bright and talented and created an environment in which they flourished. "We were an ethnic melting pot," writes Olshan. "Sexism and prejudice of any kind were not allowed. We worked all hours and fought and argued over ideas. Even screamed and slammed doors. But we respected each other and rarely went home mad."

In addition to nurturing her staff, Lawrence created a family-like environment for her clients. There were client vs. agency softball games staged at Busch Stadium under the lights and intimate lunches with clients' spouses at Lawrence's apartment. Although the intensely personal approach alienated some potential clients, the Wells Rich Green agency never changed. "We stood out in a business increasingly dominated by bland, financially oriented communication conglomerates," said Olshan. The advertising community also recognized Lawrence's unique contribution. She was named to the Copywriters Hall of Fame Copy Club in 1969 and in 1971 was honored as Advertising Woman of the Year by the American Advertising Federation.

When it came time for Lawrence to retire, the agency worked to create a "seamless transition" which honored the traditional objectives of the company. Olshan served as chair of the organization for many years, after which it was acquired and reacquired by other corporations, eventually losing the culture and philosophy attributed to its founder. Mary Wells Lawrence retired to France.


Bird, Caroline. Enterprising Women. NY: W.W. Norton, 1976.

Olshan, Kenneth S. "Forum: Olshan Tells Where Wells Went Wrong," in Advertising Age. March 2, 1998.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Lawrence, Mary Wells (1928—)

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