Here’s proof that answering a job ad on a whim can change the course of a life forever.
In 1967, Winnipegger Margot Brown decided to leave behind her life as a young university student to tag along with a friend who was moving to Toronto.
“But once I got there, I didn’t have a clue what to do,” she recalls from behind her report-covered desk, today, as MCG’s Vice-President of Media Services. “So I answered an advertisement placed by an advertising firm and got hired as a filing clerk in their media department.
“You had to take a typing test in those days, and they told me that I was not very fast. But I was accurate. Every typed page had to have six carbon copies underneath. That meant if you made a mistake, you needed to do a lot of erasing. That’s why they hired me – it was my USP [unique selling proposition].”
My boss would phone me up to flirt and you had to roll with it
At her mention of carbon copies, Margot segues into a discussion about one of television’s most popular dramas today, Mad Men.
“When I watch Mad Men it’s real for me. The moment I saw the set it reminded me so much of that first agency, with the women sitting at their desks in the interior space and the men surrounding them in their offices. And women were treated the same way, too; my boss would phone me up during work to flirt and you had to roll with it.”
Margot says as far as she can tell the only other difference between agency life as depicted in the AMC series and the real thing is she and the other clerks were required to address their superiors as “Mr. X” and “Mrs. Y”. That was, she adds with a smile, until permission was granted to call someone by their given name. Luckily for Margot, she ended up with a groovy, and female, boss.
Margot worked hard and was promoted to media buyer. But she abandoned advertising all together to take her teaching degree, thinking teaching might be the right path for a young woman. After graduating she taught in rural Ontario for a couple of years, returned to Winnipeg to teach for another year, and then left that world to go back to advertising.
In the early to mid 70s Margot was hired as a media director for Baker Lovick Advertising, a firm that had a major presence in the Canadian advertising landscape. It was the heyday of Canadian agencies, she recalls, with six or seven national agencies with branch offices in Winnipeg.
Media buying and planning is where Margot has remained ever since, including an opportunity in 1987 to pack up her young family and drive out west to Vancouver to take on a much meatier, new position as media group supervisor with the same agency. While there, she was promoted again, this time to Vice-President Media Director.
“I was really good at analyzing print and no one else wanted to do it,” she offers.
Every door that opened for me to go to Vancouver opened for me to return to Winnipeg
It was around this time – 1992 – when McKim Advertising was bought by BBDO and merged with Baker Lovick Advertising to form BBDO Canada. Two years later Margot came back to Winnipeg for personal reasons. It was another uprooting for which she is grateful, she says.
“Every door that opened for me to go to Vancouver opened for me to return to Winnipeg.”
One year prior to her return, Drew Cringan, who today is McKim Cringan George’s Chair and Senior Partner, had bought McKim Communications. Having worked with Margot in Winnipeg in the past and been impressed, he jumped to offer her a position as Media Director. Soon after joining the firm, Margot’s title doubled to include Director of Client Services.
“Margot was recognized by the industry as one of the best media planner/buyers/managers in Western Canada and I had heard she wanted to get back to Winnipeg for family reasons,” says Cringan. “We had worked together in the early 80s and I learned so much from her at that time, so when I found out she may be coming back home, I hounded and hounded her until she agreed to come back, work at McKim and help me grow that business.”
Today, Margot remains an indispensible source of information to MCG and its clients on everything from the current status of traditional media, to the immergence of social media in advertising to BBM’s new Portable People Meter Measurement tools. Her CV is all the more impressive if you pause to consider what’s not on paper – the remarkable ability to embrace change, which has made her a formidable player in a dynamic business and medium, and, it should be noted, in three major Canadian cities. In between clicks at the typewriter in clouds of cigarette smoke and today’s click-through rates and search engine optimizations, advertising and media have gone through more evolutions than most people can shake a stick at.
On Cronkite and Facebook
Thankfully, all this versatility is not lost in her conversation. One moment she fondly recalls the good old days of news reporting with Walter Cronkite, and the next she’s offering a fascinating tutorial on the difference between contextual advertising and behavioural targeting on blogs and Facebook, complete with how human nature and service engine robots play into the fold. If you’ve ever had the privilege if being in a meeting or sharing a lunch hour with Margot, you’ll know exactly how this all pans out. If you haven’t, suffice it to say she has been known to casually wade into a conversation between a tight knit group of bankers and lawyers during a networking lunch and captivate them with a colourful and academic history of one of Canada’s great media empires.
It’s hard to tell Margot’s story without at least paying tribute to where women in business have come and where they’ve been, something that’s certainly not lost in the stories on Mad Men. Suffice it to say that a woman who went from a barrage of flirty male bosses more than three decades ago to vice president did not do so without a lot of brains, diplomacy, talent and drive.
But there’s more to it than even that. Quite simply, Margot enjoys what she does.
“I like solving problems and I love the creative process,” she offers. “Media buying and planning are firmly based in research, which I enjoy. Numbers are a bit more tangible. No two plans or buys are ever the same, and there are a lot of details. We also do our best work when we collaborate with clients and between the agency departments, which is another plus. I enjoyed working with reps, although the industry has changed and you don’t work as closely with them anymore.
“It’s not a science, but it’s a bit of an art,” she says finally. “Experience is important, but basically, I just love the work.”
In 2012, Margot retired to great fanfare. We will miss her wisdom and wry humour very much!