Celebrating 100 years of WACL

1924 WACL lunch menu cover, WACL Archive at History of Advertising Trust
1924 portrait of WACL's first President Marion Jean Lyon marking WACL's 100 year history. Advertisers Weekly Archive at History of Advertising Trust
1924 portrait of WACL President Marion Jean Lyon, Advertisers Weekly at History of Advertising Trust

Championing gender equality from the beginning

Read about our WACL100 history and the extraordinary WACL members who have shaped UK advertising, the club’s milestones, developments in media and societal events.

WACL through the decades

1920s

“To Widen the Range of Advertising Vision”

Jessie Reynolds and Ethel Wood, Advertisers Weekly at History of Advertising Trust

WACL may have been founded in 1923 in a spirit of international hospitality – as an organisation charged with “receiving” a visiting delegation of adwomen from the US – but its emergence chimed perfectly with the spirit of the times. Its founders saw immediately what its potential might be.

The Great War had seen women assume greater working roles in the life of the nation and WACL’s first decade was (almost) bookended by two milestone Women’s Suffrage Acts, in 1918 and 1928.

True, there were also far more challenging aspects to the decade. It was bookended even more definitively by the deep post-war recession of the early 20s and the Wall Street Crash of 1929. But it also saw the first stirrings of what we would call the consumer economy and the emergence of electronic media – the BBC launched its “wireless” service in 1922 – and modern-looking mass market newspapers, complete with big pictures and splash headlines.

Advertising was a relatively new sector in the 1920s – and perhaps because of its own sense of modernity, it seemed open to the appointment of women to senior positions. One of the top London agencies at the time, Sampson Clark had, astonishingly, two female board directors in 1925.

There was also a recognition that the emergent consumer economy was being driven in a large part by companies developing and marketing products to increasingly affluent and independent-minded women – in control not just of domestic budgets but willing and able to spend on themselves. The advertising industry was, arguably, miles ahead of traditional professions in recognising the importance of tapping into female expertise.

In short, WACL’s arrival was timely. Its first president was Marion Jean Lyon, the advertising manager of Punch. She was the magazine’s first female executive and the first woman to hold this post at a British publication.

Other pioneers included Ethel Sayer (aka Mrs AJ Wilson); Ethel Wood, WACL’s third president and the first woman to serve on the committee of the newly formed Advertising Association; and Jessie Reynolds, a WACL founder member (if never its President). Reynolds was a true pioneer: the first woman advertising agency director in this country, the first woman President of NABS and (almost certainly another first) a Fellow of the IPA.

WACL may have been, at the outset, somewhat clubbish – membership, by invitation only, capped at 50 total – with a focus on social events and what we would today call networking. But its sense of a wider purpose is evident right from the start. An early meeting agreed on a mission statement “To Widen the Range of Advertising Vision” that reflected an ambition to change the industry for the better by raising the profile of the contribution of women across the industry.

And its earliest guiding lights proved more than adept at profile-raising, largely through their success in inviting the great, the good and the famous to speak at its Savoy Dinners – the most notable, in the mid-20s, being former Prime Minister, Lloyd George.

1930s

The road to success

1936 portrait of Margaret Havinden, WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust

This decade is routinely damned as “dark” or “hungry” – and it’s undeniable that a worldwide economic slump, following the Wall Street Crash, left a mark on British life.

What’s not so often acknowledged is that the downturn was far milder here than on the European continent or the United States. There was even a mini boom in house construction and home ownership and the consumer economy, though still modest, continued to evolve.

It was also the first genuinely mass media decade in history. Talking picture programmes boasted newsreels as well as feature films, there were newspaper circulation wars backed by aggressive promotional campaigns; and the BBC even launched a modest television service in 1936.

The advertising industry, consequently, was acquiring an ever-greater confidence and stature – and WACL members were at the forefront of attempts to put the whole business on a more “scientific” and accountable footing. Ethel Wood, for instance, who’d been WACL President in the 1920s, headed up a committee responsible for the first comprehensive survey of women’s attitudes and spending patterns. And the most celebrated WACL President of the 1930s, Margaret Havinden (nee Sangster), was at the forefront of another contemporary trend – the boom in fashion advertising. She was a leading light in the formation of the Fashion Group of Great Britain in 1935 and as a board member of Crawford’s she was effectively the account manager on several big fashion accounts. She was prominent in the industry right up into the 1950s as London tried to take over from Paris as the world’s pre-eminent fashion centre.

1936 portrait of Margaret Havinden, WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust
1936 portrait of Margaret Havinden, WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust

She was also the decade’s most prominent advocate, in magazine articles and careers literature, of advertising as a vocation for women. Margaret’s sister Florence (a WACL President in the 1920s and also a power at Crawford’s, becoming Vice-Chairman) was also active on this front, contributing a chapter on advertising in “The Road To Success”, a book encouraging women to pursue ambitious business careers.

Crawford’s is worth a brief sidebar here. One of the important British agencies of the first half of the century, with a highly visual style and glamorous offices on High Holborn, it was also progressive in its employment policies. The mantra of its founder, William Crawford, was: “I never think of men and women in separate categories… whoever does the job best can have it.”

Sir William Crawford, KBG Founder of Crawfords Advertising. IPA Archive at History of Advertising Trust.
Sir William Crawford, KBG Founder of Crawford’s Advertising. IPA Archive at History of Advertising Trust.

But WACL, though committed to accentuating the positive, was obviously alive to hardship too – some of it, as its minutes reflect, close to home. Redundancies and bankruptcies were an ever-present worry. Consequently, there was a new focus in WACL’s commitment to helping NABS and other charitable institutions like The Winter Distress League.

And of course, by the end of the decade, another form of winter was closing in – and it was to have profound implications for women in advertising. As war loomed, WACL called for members to help with the public information efforts of a new (and slightly daunting sounding) entity: The Women’s Branch of the Ministry of Information.

1940s

“Women With Specialised Knowledge”

Mary Gowing, Advertiser's Weekly archive at History of Advertising Trust

Mary Gowing, arguably WACL’s most prominent member in the 1940s, served the industry during a particularly challenging era – gloomier, in some respects than even the 20s or 30s. It was a decade of two halves: and although the war ended in 1945, the immediate post-war years were dominated by austerity, rationing and Government-directed reconstruction projects. Consumer aspiration didn’t entirely vanish, but it was driven largely by disconnected notions of Hollywood glamour and distant dreams of better times.

Mary Gowing was a woman in exactly the right place at the right time. A plain-speaking Mancunian, she had served in France with the Women’s Royal Army Corps in the Great War, then worked her way up through the marketing departments of regional companies before embarking on an advertising career, first in Manchester and later in London.

She hit her stride when she joined one of London’s top agencies, John Tait and Associates, noted for its swanky offices overlooking Trafalgar Square; and when founder John Tait volunteered to serve in the Royal Navy, she was chosen to run the agency in his absence.

During the war, she was responsible (she was a graphic artist and copywriter) for renowned public information and recruitment campaigns, notably for the women’s branch of the British Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

By the time she became WACL President in 1948, her focus had shifted with the times, working to promote the Peckham Health Centre, an organisation many believed should be a template for community services in the newly founded NHS.

During this era, with the consumer economy almost dormant, scope for the continuing evolution of WACL activities was limited. The notion of service had somewhat superseded thoughts of a career. For instance, during the War, WACL kept a register of Women With Specialised Knowledge, a regularly updated list of unemployed women advertising execs, which it passed on to the Ministry of Labour – and as a result many were offered positions at the Ministry of Information.

But WACL’s advocacy role was not entirely nullified. Several members were active on behalf of the British Federation of Business and Professional Women, whose focus was exploring ways to ensure that women who’d stepped up to run companies were not “stood down” when the war ended.

Audrey Dean caricature illustration, IPA archive at History of Advertising Trust
Audrey Deans caricature illustration, IPA archive at History of Advertising Trust

 

Amy Pearce, WACL President. WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust
Amy Pearce, WACL President. WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust

Audrey Deans and Amy Pearce (both WACL Presidents, the former, 1938-39, the latter, 1943-45) were also active in lobbying on behalf of the Federation’s campaign for equal pay, meeting regularly with MPs, not least Clement Attlee, (Labour Party leader during the war, then Prime Minister 1945-51).

They were also active in setting up a committee with an interesting two-pronged thrust – it sought not just to promote the role of women in post-war reconstruction but also to make a specific case for the role of advertising in the nation’s economic recovery. In the late 40s, that was not a popular viewpoint – and it was common, in BBC talk shows and current affairs programmes, to hear advertising discussed in scathing terms and dismissed as a rather tawdry and disreputable profession.

The Command Economy was in; the Consumer Economy was out: and it would take the advent of a new Elizabethan age for that gloom to be dispelled.

1950s

An era of “firsts”

Olive Hirst. Vice-Chair, Publicity Club of London, first woman Fellow of IPA, and from 1950, the first woman MD of leading advertising agency Sells, WACL President 1959. WACL Archive at History of Advertising Trust

When former WACL President Olive Hirst died in February 1994, many national newspapers carried obituaries – no small feat for an ad exec, man or woman. But these tributes, perhaps paradoxically, were agreed on one thing. Olive never quite achieved the recognition she deserved. Despite the pioneering aspects of her career, her energy and her powerful status in the business, she was somewhat self-effacing.

It’s hard now to square this with her list of achievements, not least her work on behalf of women in advertising and in promoting the status of the industry. She was Vice-Chair of the Publicity Club of London, a Fellow of the IPA, and from 1950, the first woman Managing Director of a leading advertising agency – Sells, then the biggest ad agency in Britain. She was elected WACL president in 1959, though her work on behalf of women in the industry continued long after her tenure.

The1950s was a fascinating transitional era marked by economic recovery, slow and painful at first but gathering an increasing momentum as the 60s loomed. It was a decade that began with rationing still at wartime levels and ended with the birth of pop music, the emergence of teenagers as a new social phenomenon, Christian Dior’s full-skirted “New look” silhouette… and a “never had it so good” 1959 General Election in which the fruits of a burgeoning consumer economy seemed attainable for all.

Along the way, we had a Coronation that stimulated the uptake of TV sets across the nation, swiftly followed by the launch of commercial television. First night ITV advertisers in September 1955 included Guinness, Batchelor’s Peas, Brillo, Cadbury’s, Dunlop, Esso, Ford and Shredded Wheat.

It was also a decade in which multinationals, international brands and ad agency networks began to coalesce – and WACL was at the vanguard of moves to broaden British advertising perspectives. It played a significant role, for instance, in helping to organise the landmark International Advertising Conference in London in 1951; and during the decade several senior WACL members undertook fact-finding missions to the US.

During the decade, Britain, one WACL newsletter contributor noted, had caught up with (and arguably surpassed) the US in the numbers of women filling senior advertising positions. Wishful thinking? Impossible now to say – but that this was a matter for speculation is interesting.

Meanwhile, the social facet of WACL’s work was undergoing a renaissance. Its 30th Birthday Dinner, held at the Savoy on the eve of the Coronation was a glittering event, attended by senior politicians and business leaders and it was covered generously in the next day’s newspapers.

WACL members were increasingly winning coverage in the business pages of the newspapers too. When Doris Richardson (WACL President in 1950-51) became the first woman to address the Executive Association of Great Britain (then a prominent forum for business leaders) reports of her speech were carried at length in several titles the next day.

Finally, we can’t leave the 1950s behind without mention of Kay Murphy, WACL President 1958-59. Even if she’d not excelled in her chosen business field, Kay would command a place in the annals of the most noteworthy women of the mid-century – she was renowned for her work on behalf of charities helping to resettle refugees both during and after the War and on behalf of injured ex-Servicemen.

But she was also the first (not in the 50s, but just after) female winner of the Advertising Association’s Mackintosh Media, the first woman to serve on the AA’s executive committee, the first woman to be a member and fellow of the Institute of Marketing and Sales Management and the first woman to be elected as chairman of the British Direct Mail Advertising Association. She served three terms on the WACL executive committee in the 50s alone – and played a large part in bringing forward a newly-energised “development” agenda, focusing on augmenting WACL’s thought-leadership opportunities. This was to continue bearing fruit in the decades to come.

1960s

Innovations: Equal Pay Act, telephones, the Pill

Iris Franklin, WACL President, fellow of the IPA, the Institute of Directors and treasurer of NABs. WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust.

During the 1960s, WACL’s sense of widening horizons – its role in an interconnected and ever-more sophisticated business world – was established early on during the presidency of the decade’s most energetic WACL member, Iris Franklin. She was an international networker par excellence, making connections (and participating in equal opportunities conferences) in continental Europe, Australia, Africa and the US.

Equally importantly, she was a reformer closer to home, bringing a new organisational discipline to WACL. In this respect she was absolutely in tune with her era. The advertising business was acquiring greater gravitas and Iris personified this – she was finance director at Royds. A decade earlier, few ad agencies boasted this job function – and where the post did exist across the broader business world, it was not one you’d expect to be occupied by a woman.

Franklin, who became not just a Fellow of the IPA but a Fellow too of the Institute of Directors and a Freeman of the City of London, turned WACL into a more professionally-run and financially-astute organisation – one with a renewed conception of its role as an agent of change. She was also treasurer of NABS and served for many years (right up into the 80s) on the Board of Management of Peterhouse, the NABS-run retirement home complex in Bexhill-on-Sea.

We often like to think about the 1960s as a decade in which the modern world, our world, took shape. It was, according to the famous aphorism, the first era in which everything was in colour – and indeed, the biggest British media event of the decade was the launch of colour TV in 1967.

Technology often dominated the decade’s headlines, culminating in the NASA moon landing of 1969. But the reality on the ground, in the homes of average Britons, was often rather less high tech.

The decade’s biggest (its budget of almost £1 million was a huge amount of money for the time) campaign, for instance, was a government-backed initiative to encourage more households to install telephones. And when they did, to use them. In the mid-60s less than a third of Britain’s homes had a phone, but the majority almost never made outgoing calls. The campaign was a relative failure – by the end of the decade household penetration was only 35%.

Progress was more eye-catching in the fields of social mores and liberation politics. Mary Quant introduced the mini skirt, an embodiment of post-war empowerment. The advent of the contraceptive pill on the NHS in 1961 enabled women to choose when, or if, to have children, to move into the workforce, to be more financially stable and prioritise their careers.

There was a landmark piece of legislation in 1968 when women sewing machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham, Essex, went on strike. Their jobs had been re-graded at a less skilled grade than men, meaning they were being paid 85% of the rate paid to men. The intervention of Employment Secretary Barbara Castle led directly to the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and Castle’s status at the heart of the Labour government was arguably a sign of progress in itself. There had been a couple of female cabinet ministers in earlier Governments. But their tenure was short-lived and neither had with the political clout or status of Castle.

And the political nature of the changing times was amply reflected in the quality of the speakers at WACL’s Savoy dinners: the list includes prominent Conservatives including Reginald Maudling, Lord Carrington and future Prime Minister Edward Heath but also those on the other side of the political divide, like the (soon to be notorious) Postmaster General John Stonehouse and feisty Trades Union Congress boss, Vic Feather.

1970s

UK advertising finds its swagger

Portrait of Patricia Mann, WACL President, 1971-2. WACL archive at History of Advertising Trust

One towering figure stood centre stage for WACL in the 1970s, its 1971/72 President Patricia Mann, OBE. There’s barely room here to list her accomplishments… but here are the edited highlights:

In her day job she was Vice-President of JWT International and group Head of External Affairs. But she was also, in her time, the first woman Fellow of the CAM Foundation, and Fellow and Council Member of the IPA, a board member of both the European Advertising Tripartite and the European Association of Advertising Agencies, a Council Member of Advertising Standards Authority, a member of the Gas Consumers Council, a member of the Mergers and Monopolies Commission, a director of Centre for Economic and Environmental Development, a Companion to the British Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1977, she received the Advertising Association’s Mackintosh Medal.

She was also feted as the author of WACL’s highest-profile initiative of the decade: a book published by Longman with WACL sponsorship and branding, entitled, snappily, “150 Careers In Advertising, With Equal Opportunities For Men And Women”.

Mann’s 2006 Guardian obituary, for all those who are interested, is a lovely tribute.

From our perspective, two things in Mann’s CV stand out. Firstly, all the Presidents we’ve focused on in pre-70s decades worked for British agencies whose names mean next-to-nothing now: Crawfords, Royds and Samson Clark. Mann worked for a multinational network agency, J Walter Thompson, one that’s still (albeit now merged with Wunderman) with us.

JWT had a London outpost since before the First World War, but it had never been a real force. Neither, as the century unfolded, had its fellow US-owned networks. In the 1970s that began to change. Another WACL member, Judie Lannon (d2019), was hired to set up JWT’s pioneering creative research unit; she was the first woman to be appointed to the board of JWT London in 1976 and a major influence on JWT’s work in the famed era when Stephen King was planning director and Jeremy Bullmore was creative director. She authored numerous important works – including, with Merry Baskin, “A Masterclass in brand planning – the timeless works of Stephen King”. She was also the founding editor of the globally recognised Market Leader magazine, the journal of the Marketing Society which she steered for 18 years.

Also worth noting, a flip side of the international coin, is Mann’s involvement with a terra incognita referred to colloquially as “Europe.” Britain, in short, was now a member of “The Common Market” – and the advocacy work of organisations like WACL would increasing be framed in a transnational context, reflecting the human resources policies of (sometimes labyrinthine) multinational organisations.

From our perspective, the 1970s feel distant but confident and buzzing, beginning in glittery Glam Rock and ending in Punk and New Wave … but from a business point of view the decade could be as sour as it was exciting. This was exemplified by the Three-Day Week, a national crisis scheme brought forward in 1974 to ration electricity, which was in short supply thanks to a miners’ strike and the picketing of the nation’s coal-fired power stations. In central London, daytime power was available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You had to do without on Thursdays and Fridays – though WACL newsletters feature reports of many agencies attempting to work on by Dickensian candlelight.

Energy shortages aside, the British agency scene at this time was energised by the legendary US Doyle Dane Bernbach opening a London office. Then CDP opened in London, producing admired work in the UK that, for once, owed nothing to the US doing it first. Other “hot shops” started flexing their muscles; BMP gave life to the Smash Martians, the Cresta Bear and the Humphries who stole your milk. A new surge of talent came into commericials production too, bringing refined lighting and classy direction, But the star names now associated with these great agencies and production companies – Colin Millward, Charles Saatchi, Alan Parker, Alan Waldie, Ridley Scott, John Hegarty, Hugh Hudson and others – were, of course, all men.

As the world of communications revelled in new and exciting work produced by this new breed of working class creative, advertising shook its tail feather to the sounds of Abba and the Bee Gees. Did they know that a significant change in the business and political culture of Britain – perhaps the most dramatic cultural revolution in living memory – was on its way?

By the end of the decade, we had witnessed a milestone moment (though not everyone was destined to celebrate it) in the narrative of equal opportunities – the election in May 1979 of the UK’s first woman Prime Minister.

1980s

The designer decade, and serious money

Lyndy Payne, WACL President 1983 and founder of AAR Group

There’s only one candidate for the ad industry’s theme song in the 1980s. It’s by the Pet Shop Boys. And it’s called “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)”.

In terms of exuberance, optimism and (at times chaotic) sheer growth, the UK industry had seen nothing like it before. This was the decade in which advertising agencies developed international networks to match the global aspirations of their clients. President Liz Fallaw worked for one of these networks, Lintas, its name an acronym of Lever International Advertising Services as which it had grown into an international operation. It’s best ad – “Just one Cornetto” to the tune of “O Sole Mio’ – is still famous.

And as the decade unfolded a rapidly changing industry was to bring challenges as well as opportunities for organisations like WACL. A generational shift was underway.

In UK terms, it was an era absolutely dominated by Saatchi & Saatchi – the only agency name that the average man and woman in the street could spontaneously recall. Its “Labour isn’t working” poster, legend had it, played a huge part in winning the 1979 General Election for the Conservatives.

The advertising industry certainly benefitted (once an early recession had been weathered) from the monetarist economic policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government. The icing on the economic cake, as far as budgets were concerned, was a steady stream of utility company privatisation campaigns: British Telecom, British Gas and British Airways were among the bigger spenders.

But both unemployment and the visible social inequality of the decade left deep scars. And the beginning of the end of the commission system, and the move to agency fees based on the scope of work required, meant that agencies, with high fixed costs, were required to justify those costs for the first time. Cue much handwringing on IPA committees.

The most significant media events of the decade included the launch of Channel 4 in November 1982 – WACL president and acclaimed audience research and marketing guru Sue Stoessl (d2013) was critically influential in the channel’s heady, early days.

Judith Salinson
Judith Salinson, WACL President and founder of British Posters and Harrison Salinson

Judith Salinson co-founded a progressive new outdoor advertising company, British Posters, and later co-founded the outdoor media planning group, Harrison Salinson. There was also the year-long Wapping dispute in 1986 which saw Rupert Murdoch face down the print unions; and the launch of Sky’s multichannel satellite TV service in February 1989.

The magazine market boomed too, with new fashion and lifestyle magazines appearing at pace, for more and more precise groups of readers. Desk-top computer typesetting and lowering print costs made entry barriers less daunting – and a new generation of publishing entrepreneurs took advantage.

Margaret Thatcher’s success in breaking through the political glass ceiling was echoed when Baroness Young was elected as the first Leader of the House of Lords; and, two years later, when Lady Mary Donaldson became the first woman Lord Mayor of London. Important equality legislation milestones, both in 1986, included the introduction of statutory maternity pay and the passing of Family Law Reform Act, finally giving children born outside marriage the same legal status as those born in marriage.

1983 WACL logo
1983 WACL logo

 

 

 

 

To mark its 60th year, WACL increased its maximum membership from 50 to 60 and commissioned a new logo. In 1988 it introduced honorary memberships – and the first was the legendary consumer magazine magician, Joan Barrell. At IPC she was responsible for the launch of Honey and Fashion before masterminding the launch of Cosmopolitan as Associate Publisher with The National Magazine Company. She followed that up with the launch in 1978 of Company before becoming the Publishing Director of Country Living and a Board Director at NatMags.

Prominent WACL members also included Barbara Nokes and MT Rainey. Nokes, a founding partner of BBH, was one of the era’s superstar copywriters, working in partnership with art director John Hegarty. The pair produced celebrated campaigns such as ‘Laundrette’, catapulting Levi’s 501 jeans back into the frontline of popular culture, and ‘Have you ever wondered how men would carry on if they had periods?’  for Smith & Nephew’s Dr White’s brand. MT Rainey, later an RKCR founder, was the rockstar planner who persuaded Steve Jobs to run the “1984” ad for Apple’s new Macintosh computer.

WACL’s highest-profile President in the 80s was Lyndy Payne, the founder in 1975 of Advertising Agency Register, the pioneering intermediary company that redefined the way marketers approach agency selection. The highlight event of her presidency came in January 1987 when the entire WACL membership attended a dinner at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the Prime Minister.

In some respects, though, despite the decade’s sometimes anarchic Spitting Image spirit, it was a “small c” conservative era in the workplace – in the late 80s of a couple of pieces of informal straw-poll research backed by the IPA, suggested that, despite all the talk of progress there’d been in recent memory, fewer than 10% of senior management positions in UK agencies were occupied by women.

There was a growing realisation, as the decade ended, that it might be time for WACL to raise its game, go beyond the “long frocks” Savoy dinners, rediscover an overt inspirational leadership role and re-establish its credentials as an agent for change.

1990s

“Women in Advertising”: a landmark report

Carol Reay, WACL President 1995-6 and the first woman to have her name above the door of an ad agency

WACL Presidents in the 1990s included Cilla Snowball, Rita Clifton, Christine Walker, Carol Reay, Stevie Spring and Sally Cartwright – titans of the advertising industry in its recent past.

Christine Walker, for instance, established Walker Media in 1997 with Phil Georgiadis and grew it into the UK’s largest media independent. Carol Reay, president in 1995/6, was the first female executive to have her name over an agency door and the first WACL president from a diverse background. Having discovered her Anglo Jamaican background as an adult, Reay went on to raise ethnicity as a fundamental recruitment and talent issue in a landmark 2002 article for Campaign. No surprise then that, under the guidance of these leaders, WACL began to evolve rapidly.

They were guided in this by a new commitment to opinion poll research among the WACL membership. One of the first surveys, in May 1994, found that a majority of members (65%) believed that WACL should have more involvement in education and training across the industry; and a slightly smaller majority also believed that WACL itself should have a more open membership policy.

This led to the launch of a series of training days and more importantly to one of the biggest innovations in the Club’s history – its first ever conference, held at the ICA on 11 June 1996. Promoted under a “Making the Most of Your Career” strapline, it featured a glittering array of speakers and an afternoon of interactive workshops. Key to its organisation were Tess Alps, Miranda Kennett and Isabel Bird.

We often tend, when we look back at the mid-90s, to remember it as a happy-go-lucky era, all Cool Britannia and Girl Power. But it didn’t always feel like that at the time – especially from an ad industry perspective. When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, ending the Cold War, there were some economists, historians and politicians who argued that we were now entering into an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and economic stability. The marketing, advertising and media sectors were to be at the vanguard of this new golden age as the consumer society aspired to new heights of sophisticated productivity.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Within months, Saddam’s Hussein’s forces had invaded Kuwait, sparking the First Gulf War and plunging western economies into recession. Plus ca change.

For the advertising sector, this was its first setback since the early 1980s – and it came as a painful shock to many. Advertising, from a relatively low base, had been one of the boom sectors of the 1980s; it was natural to assume that the good times would stretch ahead and that employment prospects might be secure.

Not so. And the media world had entered a turbulent era too. Technological advances (a pc on every desk!) had underpinned many of the innovations of the 1980s – but now, with the advent of the internet, the pace of change was to accelerate.

The first website went live in 1991, the first browser launched in 1993, the first banner ad ran in 1994, followed by the debuts of Yahoo (1994), Amazon (1995), eBay (1995) and Google (1998). By the end of the decade, we all had mobile phones and texted our friends while we listened to music on our MP3 players.

Prominent WACL members (aside from the ones already mentioned above) included Caroline Marland, the first female advertising director on Fleet Street, for the Guardian in 1983, and its Managing Director by 1995. And Jane Frost, the BBCs corporate marketing chief. was ultimately responsible for the decade’s most celebrated (and D&AD Silver winner) campaign, the BBC’s sumptuous ‘Perfect Day’ film. A perfect metaphor for the artistic diversity that the digital revolution encouraged, it featured a deftly intercut montage of the music industry’s biggest stars singing the Lou Reed song.

Politically, it was a fascinating era too. John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher following a Conservative cabinet coup of 1990, won an election against all expectations in 1992 and then was wiped out by Tony Blair’s New Labour in 1997. In that year, all-women shortlists were used to select MPs for the first time, despite being struck down by an employment tribunal in 1996. They were subsequently legalised in 2002.

These were exciting times. But somewhat scary too. So it was possible for an important piece of research into the state of the nation, as regards women and advertising, to get lost in the noise. Produced by Saatchi & Saatchi’s Director of Planning and WACL member, Marilyn Baxter, the “Women in Advertising” study, published in 1990, took as its start point the fact that 50% of employees in ad agencies were women – and had been for as long as anyone could remember. Then it noted that only 14% of agency board directors were female. And asked why. Why the disparity?

From our standpoint decades on, the question (and its most obvious answers) is more than familiar. But the way it was analysed and explored in this report was a departure.

Its recommendations were threefold: 1. Agencies should support working mothers by offering creche facilities; 2. The IPA should undertake positive discrimination when it came to the composition of its committees; and 3. The IPA should track the situation annually as part of its Census of Employment.

Good points, well made? Why not jump forward to the next chapter in our history – where we look at the IPA’s ten-years-on follow-up report.

2000s

Helping future leaders

Nicola Mendelsohn, CBE, WACL President.

Compiling WACL’s history becomes easier the nearer we get to the present day. The names are familiar; and many are still contributing, both to their companies and to the industry, at the very top of their game. It’s easier to tap into the Club’s collective memory. But that brings challenges too – there’s lots more to talk about and lots more WACL members worth a mention.

Check out this list of the decade’s Presidents: Elizabeth Fagan, Nicola Mendelsohn (pictured), Ita Murphy, Debbie Klein, Dianne Thompson, Helen Calcraft, Tess Alps, Carolyn McCall, Amanda Walsh, and Cilla Snowball. Not a bad team-sheet.

And other prominent WACL members include Carol Fisher (WACL President, 2000-01), Linda Smith and Linda Grant. Fisher, who’d been the first women boss of a radio sales team at CLT, before taking on client-side roles at Holsten and Courage, was, for over three years to 2002 in charge of the Government’s then £195m ad budget as the Chief Executive of COI Communications.

Smith was Commercial Director at Capital Radio and GCap Media (and would later move to Starcom MediaVest). Grant was Commercial Marketing Director at Capital Radio (and would later become Managing Director of the national freesheet, Metro). Female execs, it’s worth noting, had a huge part to play in establishing commercial radio as a professionally run national advertising medium.

This, though, was a decade in which conventional marketing and advertising strategies and the value of traditional media outlets (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines) would come under scrutiny as never before. Tech was changing the world.

And not, said some, in a good way: because millennium fever brought out in force those with a tendency to foresee the apocalypse. They predicted that, at the stroke of midnight, as 1999 slipped into 2000, the Y2K computer bug would be triggered across the globe, producing all sorts of macabre calamities, such as planes falling from the sky.

It didn’t happen that way but we’d soon, on the US calendar date of 9/11/2001, be confronted with apocalyptic images of a different sort. And the decade was destined to be renowned for other less violent instances of international turmoil too: the dotcom crash of 2002, followed by a financial meltdown in 2008.

On legislation, the most significant milestone was the Equality Act of 2006, which superseded (and improved upon) the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and Equal Pay Acts going back to 1970.

And there were noteworthy appointments: Clara Furse, first female Chief Executive of the London Stock Exchange; Baroness Amos, first black woman appointed to Cabinet; Baroness Scotland, first black woman Attorney General.

Meanwhile, on the thought leadership front, Canadian author Naomi Klein published, in January 2000, a powder keg of a book. “No Logo” linked the world’s biggest brands with labour abuse and environmental pillage – and helped set an agenda for debates, still hugely important today, about ESG concerns and brand purpose.

In media, it was the decade of the iPhone (launched in 2007), the arrival of social media (Facebook appeared in 2004, Twitter in 2006) and the meteoric rise of mobile advertising.

For women in advertising generally and for WACL in particular, the decade’s agenda was set early on by the IPA follow-up report we trailed in our summary of the 90s. Produced by Debbie Klein and published in 2000, “Women In Advertising: Ten Years On” opened with a stark assessment: where progress was concerned, “whilst some of the statistics have changed, very little else has.”

Debbie Klein revealed a new focus for concern: though there were lots of women working in ad agencies, there were very few in creative departments, shaping and creating “the work”. This insight was important in framing the report’s conclusions. There were ten general recommendations, majoring on possible ways to encourage flexible working patterns; and then it laid out eight ways to change the culture of creative departments.

Interestingly, positive discrimination was not felt by Klein to be an appropriate way forward. But of course, this report and the debate it stimulated formed the context for the launch of The Future Leaders Award, WACL’s most important initiative of the decade.  Overseen by Tess Alps in her 2004 presidential year and now called The Talent Awards, the scheme gives bursaries to promising women for leadership training.

Future Leaders was WACL’s stand-out initiative during the Noughties – but WACL members were also, as the decade progressed, supportive of moves to address the creative department issues highlighted in Debbie Klein’s report.

D&AD was making more of an effort to showcase the work of women creatives – producing booklets and staging exhibitions in partnership with the IPA. But perhaps one of the problems was that D&AD, founded back in 1962, still felt like a very male-dominated organisation. For instance, it had never had a female president. Could that, in the decade ahead, perhaps change?

2010s

Rediscovering WACL’s purpose

Kerry Glazer, WACL President who redefined WACL's purpose to focus on accelerating gender equality

We concluded our coverage of the noughties by wondering whether it might be possible for D&AD to hand its leadership role to a woman.

Yes, obviously, is the answer. In 2012, multi-awarded creative Rosie Arnold, who’d been deputy Executive Creative Director (another sign of progress) at BBH since 2009, became the organisation’s first female President. This milestone was even more resonant in that it was D&AD’s 50th year; and Rosie made her appointment memorable by introducing a new award, the White Pencil, recognising work that “not only sells but does good in the world.”

This was a decade in which increasing numbers of women in advertising made significant progress. Names on the crowded WACL honour board must include Deborah Mattinson (founder director of BritainThinks, Director of Strategy to Sir Keir Starmer), Rita Clifton (former Saatchis exec, former Interbrand Chairman, brand guru with NEDs at several blue-chip companies), Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts and Karen Blackett (equality champion, WPP powerhouse exec, President of the Thirty Club).

Prominent on the client side is Carolyn McCall, formerly of The Guardian and Easyjet, now boss of ITV and still active in WACL. Syl Saller also scaled the ladder: as global CMO at Diageo she mandated gender-balanced agency teams and ensured that robust metrics are used to measure progress both in the company’s advertising output and on its boards. At Boots, Elizabeth Fagan was celebrated for her achievement in stepping up from marketing boss at Boots to Managing Director. Jan Gooding had a stellar client-side career culminating in Group Brand Director at Aviva and Chair of Stonewall.

Media sector stars include: Kathryn Jacob, (advocate for the cinema medium as Chief Executive of Pearl & Dean and co-author, with MediaCom’s Sue Unerman, of “The Glass Wall”), Nicola Mendelsohn (BBH, Grey, VP of Meta’s global business group) and Annie Rickard, co-founder of out-of-home giant Posterscope in the 1980s, architect of its international success and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party.

A special mention here, too, for global market research luminary Liz Nelson. We could have written Liz into every decade from the 1960s onwards – she launched her market research firm, Taylor Nelson Sofres in 1965, and though she was never WACL President she has long been a dynamic and admired member. In 2019, the MRS recognised her enduring influence on the industry by inaugurating the annual Liz Nelson Award for Social Impact – a scheme that aims to celebrate market research as a force for good.

Landmark moments in equality legislation in this decade include the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act and a law compelling every UK company with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay information.

Notable appointments beyond advertising included: Libby Lane, first female Church of England Bishop. Bobbie Cheema-Grubb QC, the first Asian woman to become a High Court judge; Major General Susan Ridge, first ever female senior officer in the British Army. And a record number of women were elected to the House of Commons in the 2019 general election.

WACL had a run of outstanding Presidents across this decade:  Lisa Thomas, Pippa Glucklich, Kerry Glazer (pictured), Lindsey Clay, Lindsay Pattison, Jennelle Tilling, Camilla Harrisson, Roisin Donnelly, Kathryn Jacob and Elizabeth Fagan. The decade is notable for a momentous decision by one of them. In 2017, under the Presidency of Kerry Glazer, the membership voted to change the purpose of the club to make it a more overtly campaigning organisation.

Where equality issues were concerned, stated Kerry in a 2017 article for Campaign, there was a new sense of momentum in society as a whole … and WACL’s revitalised sense of purpose reflected “an appetite in the membership to accelerate change.” The club would now seek to pursue gender equality for all… and, on a practical level, it would back industry initiatives to offer flexible working, in all its forms, to all employees from day one in a job.

WACL’s determination to accelerate change also helped lay the groundwork for commissioning a report on sexual harassment in the advertising and marketing industry. This was a unique industry collaboration between the Advertising Association, NABS and WACL, and backed by the IPA and ISBA. Its findings, based on a survey designed and conducted by Karen Fraser of over 3,500 people in the industry, shaped the creation of the timeTo initiative.

Written for the entire advertising and marketing sector, this sets out a code of conduct for everyone – management and HR, those who have been sexually harassed, for witnesses, for those who fear they have behaved inappropriately and for those wrongfully accused. The steering committee on this initiative included Kerry Glazer and Helen Calcraft and it was chaired by Tess Alps, who was awarded the Macintosh Medal that same year.

It was telling that in this decade WACL actively set out to link up with newer women’s groups in the industry such as Bloom, Creative Equals and SheSays. Making WACL’s membership more diverse was another goal and, led by Charlie Parkin, the nomination process to join an enlarged club was made more transparent.

Key mentoring initiatives also came into their own. The NED and trustee scheme, run by Francesca Ecsery since 2013, where members come together to hear from experienced Non-Executive Directors, search consultants or other experts about the role of the NED, was increasingly popular.

The Future Leaders Award, subsequently renamed the WACL Talent Awards, really hit its stride in this decade too. Perhaps, in summing up WACL’s achievements in the 2010s, the product of the club’s direction of travel since the 1990s, it’s worth quoting from WACL President Camilla Harrisson’s newsletter, on the Future Leader’s Award 2017 intake.

It makes for a neat conclusion to our history so far: “The intake is the most diverse we have ever had in terms of race, age and sexual orientation. The courses they applied for ranged from several at RADA teaching executive presence, to mini-MBAs, to the Cambridge Rising Leaders Course to communicating with impact. In 2017, WACL selected a final list of 23 winners – giving them grants totalling £35,000 – the most winners we have ever awarded and the most money we have ever given out.”

Explore more of WACL’s Centenary celebrations

WACL100 Patrons

Discover the trailblazing women from business, entertainment and sport who are supporting WACL100 as patrons

Events

Check our our WACL100 events programme

Campaigning

Read more about the work we do to accelerate gender equality

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