When you’re making advertising, the biggest risk you take is the risk of being ignored. So break the rules, scare yourself, never play it safe. That’s what Jack Bush, Marlene’s first agency boss at Vickers and Benson Montreal, told her in 1969. Marlene took Jack’s credo to heart, and as she became a mentor, imparted it to others. Within a generation, she would take her place among the most influential personalities in Canadian advertising.
In 1969, Marlene left V&B for JWT Montreal, where her work on Red Rose, Pepsi, and Kraft earned her a clutch of Canadian and international awards. One of her Red Rose spots has been voted one of the 100 Best Canadian TV Commercials Ever. “Only in Canada, you say?”
The mother ship in Toronto began to take notice of their hot little shop in Quebec and Marlene was promoted to Montreal Creative Director in 1976. Seven years later, she was offered the position of Vice Chair, National Creative Director in Toronto. She took the job – rather, she embraced it and transformed it. Under her stewardship as the first female creative director in Canadian advertising, JWT Toronto was named Agency of the Year – not once, but twice. In 1986 Marlene, by then Vice Chair of Canada, joined the JWT Worldwide Board of Directors, the first woman ever to sit at that table.
Marlene briefly left advertising for politics and went to work on the 1993 Liberal campaign, which saw Jean Chrétien elected. She also partnered with Bruce Mau on the Barnes Exhibit campaign. In 1994 she started The Ongoing Partnership with three other partners. After eight years, Marlene and her creative partner, Art Director John Speakman, joined forces with Dennis Edell at Partners+Edell.
Marlene has donated her expertise, mentoring skills and enthusiasm to many endeavours beyond agency life. She taught advertising hopefuls at OCAD and George Brown, lectured at University of Toronto, York University, Humber College, and Syracuse University. Marlene has served on the Board of Directors at NABS, The Art Directors Club of Canada, George Brown College, The United Way and most recently Word Play a new charity dealing with childhood literacy. She has chaired the Marketing Awards and The Bessies, and judged these and other Canadian and international award shows more times than she can count.
Many of the people Marlene has mentored – writers, art directors, account managers and clients – have also risen to the top of their professions, perhaps because they learned along the way that, in the business of advertising, taking risks is one of the keys to success.