Jane Maas and the Lasting, Honest Impact She Left On Advertising

The industry legend was much more than ‘the real Peggy Olson’

Jane Maas passed away last week at age 86.
Headshot of Doug Zanger

Tributes continue to pour in for Jane Maas, the advertising executive who came of age in the go-go ’60s and became an industry powerhouse. Often dubbed as “the real Peggy Olson” in reference to the Mad Men character played by Elisabeth Moss in the popular series, the 86-year-old died last week in South Carolina, where she had moved in early 2016 to be closer to her two daughters.

“She represents a woman who cleared the path for other women,” said Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Movement. “There’s real gratitude towards her for being one of the first, and I’m grateful for her bravery.”

Maas started as a junior copywriter in 1964 at Ogilvy and eventually became a creative director and the second female officer at the agency. But it was her move to Wells Rich Greene in 1976 as a senior VP that cemented her legend, helping create one of the most iconic advertising campaigns in history for New York State tourism. “I Love New York”—with its logo designed by Milton Glaser—breathed new life into the state, and especially New York City, which was on the brink of bankruptcy and dealing with consistently bad headlines due to violence in the city.

In 1981 Maas became president of Muller Jordan Weiss (and became the first woman to lead a major New York agency she didn’t found) then, in 1987 was tapped as president and chairman of Earle Palmer Brown Advertising and Public Relations. Maas also worked with Mary Wells Lawrence, herself a prominent and iconic leader in advertising. In 2005, she published one of the industry’s most prominent guides, “How to Advertise,” with co-author and creative partner Ken Roman.

Maas rose to prominence once again in 2012 with the book “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond.” The chronicle of women in the industry during the height of the Mad Men era was well-timed (it launched as the fifth season of the award-winning AMC show was beginning) and provided an unflinching glimpse into the realities facing women in advertising at the time. Filled with salacious details of booze, sex and sexism, Maas’ honesty was an equally entertaining and challenging read, with some of the themes from the book continuing to resonate today.

“I think we’re still coping with the old challenges,” Maas told Adweek as the book launched. “For working mothers, in fact, I think it’s getting harder because advertising agencies, as they’ve been shrinking and fighting more for survival—and for enough profit to keep going—I think they’re asking fewer people to do more. I think it’s a much tougher area in many ways than it was in the ‘60s.”

Yet, throughout her career, Maas’ impact was felt among both men and women who were fortunate enough to be part of her orbit. Mark Goldman, founder and CEO of Salus, and an assistant account executive at Wells Rich Greene in the late 70s, recalled how Maas helped him build a foundation of success as he worked on the agency’s P&G business.

“She was kind and invited me into her office for weekly chats,” he recalled. “(She) taught me my first lessons about client management (‘They’re not always right, but you need to listen to them and respect their point of view.’). She cared about her work, others and worked in a tough environment for women in the ad business back then. I’ll never forget how she treated me—a lowly assistant AE—and that informed how I cared for and nurtured the development of young talent.”

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.