In recent years, Mary Ware has given a number of speeches to college students, explaining the importance of getting a good education and urging them to stay in school. In her own life, though, Ware managed to overcome the lack of a sheepskin to build a phenomenally successful career in advertising and marketing, first on the buy side and then, since 1994, on the sales and marketing end.
Throughout, her ability to recognize and take advantage of opportunities carried her towards success. In 1983, after separating from her husband, she moved from Toronto to her native Detroit. Starting life all over as a single mom, Ware worked for a temp agency that put her in Young & Rubicam's Detroit office. After a two-day assignment, the ad agency was so impressed with her drive and enthusiasm that they offered her a full-time job. Within a year, she went from administrative assistant to assistant planner.
Then Chicago beckoned, and she joined the out-of-home planning department at Ogilvy & Mather. After a little more than a year, it was off to Burrell Communications as a media planner.
In 1990, Ware left Burrell to join E. Morris Communications as media director. Two years later, however, Burrell made Ware "a nice offer," and she ended up rejoining that agency.
Then, in 1994, Ware defected to the sales side. "There were so many people [giving me sales pitches but] their presentations were just unbelievable."
Unbelievably bad, that is. "They were not prepared," she says. "I would have to tell them how to best position [the product]."
Ware realized that she could do a better sales pitch than many of the people who passed through her office, and she realized it might be a fun job that had the added benefit of paying a ton of money to those who were good at it. "I started thinking maybe that was something I might want to do."
Ware left Burrell in 1994 to start her own media-planning consulting firm, but, soon after that, WGCI(AM)-FM Chicago, with which she had done business as an agency planner, offered her a job as an account executive. In 1996, she was promoted to national sales manager. Over the next four years, Ware's sales strategy helped catapult the stations to the top of the revenue list for combos in Chicago. In 1999, WGCI(AM)-FM became the top-billing urban-radio-station combo in the country.
In 2000, Ware joined Katz Urban Dimensions, a division within the Katz Marketing Group. The group develops marketing partnerships for advertisers and radio stations focusing on multicultural strategies.
Once again, the attraction was being able to see an opportunity and develop a strategy to take advantage of it: "[I like] being able to take a blank wall and paint whatever picture I want to on it. I really love strategic planning. I learned very early on that I'm a strategy person."
But Ware stresses that there is also a creative side to her job. On a basic level, developing marketing strategies is like "creating stories," she says. Marketing and sales is often about "finding a story where there isn't a story and making things seem larger than life."