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Yes We Can

Women's network maintains steadfast dedication to promotion and education of women
  • April 18 2011

With an impressive roster of 1,300 members, today’s AWNY is a far cry from the original small group of forward thinking women who gathered together in 1912 to launch an association in which they could fully participate. The need was clear. When Christine Frederick, a consulting editor for Ladies’ Home Journal attended a meeting of the men’s advertising club, she was only allowed to listen from behind a curtain. “Seen and not heard” didn’t just apply to children at the beginning of the 20th century.

But Frederick wanted to be seen and to be heard, and with the help of her husband J. George Frederick, she created the League of Advertising Women of New York, later shortened to Advertising Women of New York, or AWNY. While the specific needs were clearly different 100 years ago, the overarching goals of the organization have remained remarkably steady. “The original goal was to bring women along in the industry,” says Liz Schroeder, AWNY’s executive director. “That’s been our primary purpose as long as the organization has existed—and it still is.”

To that end, AWNY focuses on cutting-edge education and best practices, networking and sharing, mentoring and developing young talent, and honoring achievements and role models with a number of awards. The result is an organization that’s just as valuable to long-time member Kathy Aaronson, who’s logged 38 years as a member, as it is to relative newcomer Christa Babcock, who’s entering her fourth year as a member.


“The programs are instrumental in bringing all levels of experience together,” says Aaronson, CEO of Sales Athlete Executive Search. “The flow of information and the generosity of resources among the members is remarkable.”

When Aaronson joined in 1973, as the group’s first female media salesperson, she was so unique among the flock of female media buyers and male media salesmen that a special group was started to address their needs. “AWNY actually set up a unit to nurture us,” she says.

While Aaronson was the first of a new type of member when she joined AWNY, Babcock, associate manager, marketing operations at Sirius XM Radio, joined for a different reason. “I was thinking about long-term career perspective and I wanted the answer to one really important question: What do the ‘me’s’ look like 20 years from now?” she says. “I had all the questions people have when they’re starting out: What will I grow into? Who are those people? Do I look like that? Do I have that?” As the pre-eminent group for women in the industry, AWNY was the obvious place to find answers to those questions.

Babcock jumped right in, joining three committees that sparked her interest, including the Young Executives Committee, for which she is now the board advisor in her role as a member of the Board of Directors. Geared to members who are younger than 30, which comprises nearly 25 percent of AWNY’s membership, the committee hosts career development clinics, a VIP silent auction and the annual Networking with Notables, which gives the young execs the chance to meet with influential industry leaders with more than 20 years experience like Aaronson.

The committee is one of a dozen AWNY committees that offer a busy calendar of some 35 events a year for advertising professionals, ranging from intimate boardroom breakfasts to popular evening educational sessions on the most timely industry topics to jam-packed awards luncheons, such as the Woman of the Year luncheon, which will attract nearly 500 attendees this year.


When Donna Speciale, president of investment and activation at MediaVest, stands up on March 16 to receive the 2010 AWNY Woman of the Year award, she’ll be joining some extraordinary company, becoming part of a who’s who of the most important women in advertising since the award’s inception in 1965.

“It will always stand out in my mind as a spectacular day and honor,” says Mary Baglivo, CEO & chair, the Americas, Saatchi and Saatchi, who earned the honor of 2006 Woman of the Year. “In addition to client powerhouses who took the stage, my two kids—then 13 and 15—were speakers and I was so proud of them. I was also so proud to be in such great company with so many other wonderful women and to be part of an organization that does such great work in developing young talent in our industry.”

With so many talented women in the industry, choosing one as a standout can be a difficult process. “Each year it gets harder to make a selection because we have so many women in our field who are deserving,” says Karen List, AWNY president and director of agency relations for The New York Times.

“It’s a very prestigious award,” says Arlene Manos, president, national advertising sales, for Rainbow Media, former AWNY president and the member who nominated Speciale this year. “It’s not just someone who has achieved a particular accomplishment this year, but a woman who has made significant ongoing contributions to the industry and to her community.”

herself was just the recipient of another of AWNY’s prestigious awards, one of the 20 women honored as a 2011 Advertising Working Mother of the Year, a joint endeavor of AWNY and Working Mother magazine that celebrates women who are successful in both the office and the home in three categories: Established Moms, New-to-Motherhood Moms and Trailblazer Moms, the category in which Manos was honored as a pioneer paving the way for future working mothers. A third major award is the annual Women to Watch award, honoring 25 industry leaders.


With its combination of first-in-class education, networking and mentorship, AWNY has maintained its status as the industry’s go-to organization and plans to retain that mantle in the future. One current focus is helping members navigate the worlds of digital and social media, while retooling its own Web site to reflect all today’s bells and whistles and enhancing member connectivity with other forms of social and digital media.

“We make sure to hit on the hottest and most pressing issues in the industry,” says Schroeder. Whether that issue was getting women into the room in the early 20th century, the impact of television on flagging magazine sales in the 1970s or best practices in a digital and social world today, AWNY remains at the forefront.

“As marketing and advertising professionals are facing evolutionary changes in the marketplace, AWNY continues to provide relevant best-in-class content, reflect innovation in technology and bring key professionals together,” says List. “Our scope and bandwidth are expanding to address the most pressing issues of today. We’re proud to remain the most influential organization of our kind, providing a platform for women to advance in all realms of advertising.”

Mentor Magic

A hallmark of AWNY’s commitment to fostering the success of future industry leaders is the mentorship program, which matched more than 100 pairs of seasoned professionals with newer talent in 2011. “Each pairing is technically for one year, but a lot of long-term relationships come from the mentoring program,” says Liz Schroeder, AWNY’s executive director. “And at a certain point, the mentees become the mentors for new members so it’s an ongoing process.”

Longtime member Kathy Aaronson, who has mentored 15 women so far, is a huge proponent of the program. “These young women are well-educated and articulate and they know where they’re going,” she says. “They just need someone to talk to.”

The program is a two-way street, with the mentors also learning from their mentees. “They’re born with computers in their hands now,” says Schroeder. “Most mentors tell us they learn a lot from their mentees. It’s an information road both ways.”

And it’s a road that leads to long-term relationships. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching these young women go on to become mentors themselves and be gracious enough to stay in touch with me as they move up in the industry,” says Aaronson. “It’s very gratifying.”