Margot Brown introduces herself as “Margot Brown, retiree extraordinaire” when she phones Marketing at precisely the scheduled time to speak about her retirement as vice-president of media at the Winnipeg agency McKim Cringan George (MCG).
Her boast is somewhat undermined, however, by the fact she’s spending her first official day as a retiree at the office, “cleaning up” a project she’s been working on.
Brown, 65, is leaving agency life behind after a 45-year career that began with a job as a filing clerk in the media department of Toronto agency Stanfield, Johnson and Hill and included subsequent stops at major agencies in Vancouver and her native Winnipeg.
There was also a stint on the client side with MTS, and a job in sales for the now defunct Pacific Western Airlines’ custom magazine West World.
It was on the agency side of the business that Brown’s career truly thrived, however. “I’m an agency rat–I figured that out a long time ago,” she said. “I love working as a team: the trust that’s involved, the respect you have for the people you work with and their particular talents. The fact you get to work on a full range of client businesses.”
Her career began in an era when clerical jobs were among the few positions in advertising available to women, and where casual sexism was the norm. “My boss would phone me up during work to flirt, and you had to roll with it,” she recalled in a 2009 post chronicling her career on the McKim Cringan George website.
“When I saw Mad Men I freaked, because it was exactly like that,” she told Marketing. “You just forget how much culture has changed. Time passes and things change. There were some good things about the ’60s and ’70s, and there were some very bad things, particularly as a woman.”
Brown’s career spanned a transformative period for the advertising industry, one that included the advent of the standalone media agency, which she still thinks was a significant blunder despite the considerable clout these agencies now possess. “One of the things I’ve always thought about media is that it’s just as creative as anything else,” she said. “I’m sure it was important to give agencies the muscle required to make those massive buys and get the rates down, [but] I almost felt sorry for those people who were sitting there buying millions of GRPs a day.”
MCG president and CEO Peter George, who has worked with Brown for the past six years, called her a “legend” in the Manitoba advertising industry, whose legacy is the current media executives she trained.
“When people work with her they come away a lot more knowledgeable about what they’re doing,” said George. “Here in Manitoba there’s a generation of people who work in media who were mentored and trained by Margot, and they still look up to her as the person who provided that inspiration and training.”
George’s first encounter with Brown came several years ago, when his former agency, Taylor George Design, lured away one of her best employees. “She phoned me up to tell me how pissed off she was,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Despite her many years in the industry, Brown has been instrumental “leading the charge” in terms of digital media in recent years, said George. “For someone who’s been in the industry for so long, you’d expect them to be resistant to change and yearning for the old days, but she’s so excited about all the new technology,” he said. “She’s got this great focus on the future that’s quite interesting.”
Brown said she hasn’t formalized any retirement plans beyond some travel (there’s been a much-discussed cross-Canada road trip with a former colleague) and joining a golf league.
“I’m quite happy not doing anything as well,” she said. “You work so hard in this business you don’t really know what you do until you stop working, but there’s a lot that interests me. I think part of the journey is going to be figuring out where to go next.”
Colleagues and co-workers marked Brown’s retirement this week with a surprise party, where she was presented with a bus back sign featuring her likeness and the accompanying message “When office life gets a little stale, reach for RetireMints.” A similarly themed ad appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, while party attendees were also given their own tin of RetireMints.