Fast Chat: Jane Maas

Agency vet discusses her new book on the lives of '60s 'Mad Women'

Jane Maas would like to be counted among the founding mothers of advertising. A copywriter who started at Ogilvy & Mather in the 1960s, she rose to be a creative director before going on to top creative positions at shops including Wells Rich Greene, where she worked on the famous “I Love New York” state tourism campaign. At age 80, she still consults for clients like liquor conglomerate Brown-Forman and Madison Square Garden Corporation. She’s also just kicked off a 40-city tour promoting her third book, Mad Women, a look back at how the agency old boys' club treated the fairer sex. Adweek caught up with Maas to reflect on her stories from the creative revolution—and get her perspective on what’s changed for women since.

Adweek: Good timing with the title (Season 5 of Mad Men premieres March 25). What exactly is Mad Women about?

Jane Maas: Women's status [in the workplace] is the serious spine of the book. Sex in the office, and martinis, and how we dressed, and how we acted is mostly fun. But the status of women is kind of the one serious issue.

You write a fair amount about prioritizing your professional life over your personal life. Tell us a little about that?

I’m afraid it hasn’t changed all that much. … I do a lot of talking on college campuses, and the young women there, the first question they ask is, “How am I going to handle being a wife, a mother and a career person?” I tell them, “Well if you want to have a career, you are going to have to work harder than the man in the office to your left and the man in the office to your right.” And there’s still no question about that. If you’re going to be married and have children and have a career, then there’s going to be a juggling act …

I said I put my career first, my husband second and my children third. That was true because my career was terribly important to me. Not that my children and my husband weren’t. But I had to set priorities. That sounds very, very hard-hearted and terrible, but if I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing.

What are the new challenges for women trying to make it in advertising?

I think we’re still coping with the old challenges. Particularly for working mothers, this business of being torn into all sorts of priorities continues. 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 the hours have gotten longer—at least this is what I’m picking up from my young friends who are still working. I think it’s a much tougher area in many ways than it was in the '60s, when we had more people and the clients weren’t changing agencies every six months.

Are there any ways you think it’s gotten easier for women?

I think men’s consciousness has definitely been raised—and maybe because it’s “You’d better treat women better, otherwise you’re going to get a sexual harassment suit against you”—but men are treating women with more respect in the workplace without any question. I think men are more accepting of women in the workplace. [In the book] I told the story of being the first woman copywriter assigned to the American Express Card business, and the account executives said, “Well Jane, the brand guys are kind of worried about a woman being on the account. They think if they turn down your ads, you’ll cry. You may be met with a little bit of hostility when you go down there for this first meeting.” And we go down there for the meeting and the big boss CEO pulls out a chair for me and shakes my hand warmly, and I think this isn’t going to be so bad as I thought and he says, “Did you forget your steno pad, dear?”