Mary Wells Lawrence

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Mary Wells Lawrence
1969 Wells Rich Greene File Photo of Mary Wells Lawrence at her desk.jpg
Mary Wells Lawrence at her desk, 1969
Mary Georgene Berg

(1928-05-25) May 25, 1928 (age 94)
Youngstown, Ohio, US
Alma materCarnegie Institute of Technology
OccupationAdvertising executive
Known forFounder of Wells Rich Greene advertising agency
Spouse(s)Bert Wells (m.1949)
Harding Lawrence (m.1967)

Mary Wells Lawrence (born Mary Georgene Berg on May 25, 1928) is an American retired advertising executive. She was the founding president of Wells, Rich, Greene,[1][2] an advertising agency known for its creative work.[3] Lawrence was the first female CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Mary Wells Lawrence was awarded the Lion of St. Mark for her lifetime achievements at the 2020 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Education and early years[edit]

Lawrence was born in Youngstown, Ohio, United States. In the late 1940s, she studied for two years at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she met industrial design student Burt Wells. While there she became a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. In 1949, they married and moved to Youngstown, Ohio. She began her advertising career there in 1951, as a copywriter for McKelvey's department store. She relocated to New York City, where she studied theatre and drama. By 1952, she had become Macy's fashion advertising manager. She divorced Wells that year, only to remarry him in 1954. Lawrence worked as a copywriter and copy group head at McCann Erickson in 1953, later joining the Lennen & Newell advertising agency's "brain trust." In 1957, she began a seven-year tenure at Doyle Dane Bernbach (now DDB Worldwide). In her 2002 book, A Big Life in Advertising, Lawrence cited DDB partners James Edwin Doyle, Maxwell Dane, and William Bernbach as significant influences on her subsequent career.[4]


Lawrence had two daughters with Bert Wells, Pamela and Kathy. She divorced Bert a second time in 1965, and married former Braniff International Airways president Harding Lawrence on November 25, 1967.[5][6] Mr. Lawrence had four children: sons Harding, Jr., who died in infancy, James B., State R.,and one daughter, Deborah. He died on February 16, 2002 at age 81 of pancreatic cancer.[7][8]

Jack Tinker and Partners and Braniff[edit]

Lawrence went to work for Jack Tinker and his new advertising group, Jack Tinker and Partners. The members of this revolutionary new think tank were dubbed "Tinker's Thinkers". The "Thinkers" would create ad campaigns for other agencies at Interpublic, a holding company of many US advertising firms. Lawrence had previously worked for Tinker at McCann-Erickson, and was excited to partner with him again. Her star rose in the advertising world [2][7] with the success of her advertising campaign for Braniff International Airways, "The End of the Plain Plane".[9][10] She hired Alexander Girard as project designer, and designer Emilio Pucci to create new uniforms for the airline's flight attendants and crew. The campaign was lauded as critical to the airline's revolutionary turnaround.

Wells Rich Greene[edit]

Following the success of the Braniff campaign, and due to being denied a promotion promised to her, Lawrence founded Wells Rich Greene on April 5, 1966, and became the agency's president. Partner Richard Rich acted as the agency's treasurer, and Stewart Greene its secretary.[1][2] Major WRG clients included American Motors, Cadbury Schweppes, IBM, MCI Communications, Pan American World Airways, Trans World Airlines, Procter & Gamble, Ralston Purina, RC Cola, and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts.[3] Braniff remained a Wells Rich Greene client through 1968.

Lawrence was behind the Benson and Hedges marketing campaign in the late 1960s which increased the sales of Benson and Hedges from 1 billion cigarettes in 1966 to 14 billion cigarettes in 1970.[11]

By 1969, Lawrence was reported to be the highest-paid executive in advertising. She was selected by U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to be a member of his Commission on Critical Choices for Americans, and was also invited by U.S. President Gerald Ford to represent business at an Economic Summit in Washington, D.C.

After Lawrence stepped down as CEO in 1990, the agency was sold to Boulet Dru Dupuy Petit, and became known as Wells Rich Greene BDDP.[3] The agency officially ceased operations in 1998, and donated its archive of print and television ads to Duke University's John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History.

Notable campaigns[edit]

A partial listing of Wells Rich Greene advertising campaigns:[3]

Women On The Web[edit]

Mary Wells Lawrence is one of the five founders of wowOwow,[12] a website created, owned, and written by women for women, which launched on March 8, 2008, International Women's Day. The wOw founders are Joni Evans, Peggy Noonan, Liz Smith, Lesley Stahl, and Mary Wells Lawrence. The WOW contributors are Candice Bergen, Joan Juliet Buck, Joan Ganz Cooney, Joni Evans, Whoopi Goldberg, Judith Martin, Sheila Nevins, Peggy Noonan, Julia Reed, Liz Smith, Lesley Stahl, Marlo Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, and Mary Wells Lawrence.


Born to a generation of women who eventually sought to change the landscape of American culture, Mary Wells came of age at a time and place when she could also reshape the world of American advertising.

Deborah K. Morrison.[13]


  • Mary Wells Lawrence. A Big Life in Advertising.[4] Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, ISBN 0-375-40912-2 Paperback: Touchstone, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-4586-5


  1. ^ a b Stuart Elliott (May 27, 2002). "An Advertising Legend". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2007. Retrieved January 4, 2007. During her heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, she and her agency, Wells Rich Greene, were the architects of an approach to advertising that blended entertainment production values with old-fashioned selling techniques as never before. The campaigns she helped develop in a time before giant agency companies resulted in jingles and tag lines - "Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz" for Alka-Seltzer and Ford's "Quality Is Job One" - that burrowed their way into the American memory.
  2. ^ a b c "Wells Rich Greene: Si modesti essemus, perfecti essemus". The Center for Interactive Advertising. March 30, 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d "Ad Agency Archive Donated to Duke Libraries". Duke University News Service. June 3, 1999. Archived from the original on June 12, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2007. An intelligent, energetic, and aggressive leader, Wells became known early in her career as the first woman in advertising to break through the industry's "glass ceiling," especially after she landed a $12 million account with American Motors Corporation in 1967. Based in New York City, the company made its reputation with innovative work and experienced intense growth in its first decade of business.
  4. ^ a b "The (advertising) World According to Lawrence". Book review on Knowledge@Wharton, an online publication of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on February 21, 2005.
  5. ^ Lawrence, Mary Wells (2002). A Big Life (in advertising). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 56–59. ISBN 0-7432-4586-5.
  6. ^ William Norwich (May 17, 2001). "From Dream House to Dream House on the Riviera". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b Kenneth N. Gilpin (January 19, 2002). "Harding L. Lawrence, 81, Airline Chief, Dies". The New York Times (NYT abstract). Braniff was the first client of Wells, Rich, Greene Inc. Ms. Wells's concept, the "End of the Plain Plane," led Braniff to paint its planes in bright colors and dress its flight attendants in Pucci-designed uniforms. One DC-8 jetliner on the airline's Latin American routes was painted in playful wavy patterns by Alexander Calder. "More people will see this painting by a famous artist in a shorter time than perhaps any other in history," Mr. Lawrence said in 1973. Braniff paid the artist $100,000. {{cite web}}: External link in |work= (help)
  8. ^ Michael McMurtrey (April 2000). "Harding Lawrence - July 15, 1920 - January 16, 2002". The Braniff Family.
  9. ^ Jason Mojica (2003). "Alexander Girard". The Modernist.
  10. ^ San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 23, 2006). "Press Release". SFMOMA Celebrates the Vibrant Work of Alexander Girard. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2008. In 1968 Girard designed a line of furniture for Herman Miller based on his earlier (1965) designs for Braniff Airlines.
  11. ^ Whiteside, Thomas. "Cutting Down." The New Yorker. 12/11/1970
  12. ^ wowOwow website
  13. ^ Edd Applegate. The Ad Men and Women: A Biographical Dictionary of Advertising. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994. ISBN 0-313-27801-6 (Table of contents).
  14. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  15. ^ "Mary Wells Lawrence". American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame website.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]