Book Review: A Big Life (in advertising) by Mary Wells Lawrence

I tackled A Big Life (in advertising) because it is written by Mary Wells Lawrence, who was one of the top female advertising executives and the first female CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.


The book was… okay. I guess I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. But I always have a simple rule to determine the value of a book: if I take away ONE thing from the book then it’s worth it to me.

I’ve never read a book that wasn’t worth it to me.

When it comes to A Big Life, A few tidbits stuck with me which I’ll outline below. Otherwise, it was a collection of name-dropping and location-dropping. All of which, I’m sure, was very important at that time. But 30 years later? It means nothing to me. Most of the leading companies Ms. Lawrence worked with, including her own agency, are now defunct.

Where I got the most value was when she discussed her process or her learnings, rather than people, locations, or events.

Some of the valuable excerpts:

  • Power of Product
    • Great advertising, the kind that works, almost always comes out of a great product
  • Relationships
    • The advertising business is about good fortune and luck. It’s about timing. It’s about talent. It’s about relationships
    • Every agency must have at least one person can provide clients with something that is unique and valuable enough to offset the occasional calamity
  • Knowledge and information
    • Knowledge stimulates great advertising
    • To create great copy and a great campaign, you have to have an open mind, the nosiness of a detective, and an ability to assimilate all the information you can get from every imaginable source
    • There’s nothing better than a great fact. Use it to your advantage
  • Quick wins
    • Color is a hot marketing tool
    • Everything old is new again
    • Pay for top talent, and pay them well

If you’re looking for a quick hit on Mary Wells Lawrence’s life and learnings, a good New York Times article is here:

Thoughts, feelings, reflections? Include them here.

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