Many of us are tuning in to the final season of the wildly popular Mad Men to see how it will all work out for Don Draper and the rest of the team at Sterling Cooper. In case you haven’t seen it, it focuses on the people who worked in the advertising business on New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960s. It was then that a handful of powerful agencies shaped the images of many of the products and brands that are still household names today.
Some of the episodes I watched were, quite frankly, a bit shocking. I guess I just never realized that some of the excesses of that era (sex, drugs and rock-n-roll) were part of the culture of some of the agencies—at least, that’s what the show would have us believe. One of the true-isms of the show is just how difficult it was for women to survive in that kind of male-dominated atmosphere.
It was right around that time when St. Louis began to get its share of the national marketing business. Enter Joan Quicksilver, who started her career a decade or so following the Mad Men era, and has since become a household name not only among local public relations circles, but also throughout the community at-large. As one of the female pioneers of St. Louis PR, she has seen women go from being minimalized in the industry to now being dominant influences.
Quicksilver made her mark by writing and producing musical shows that were performed at charity galas in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. In those audiences were people like G. Duncan Bauman, Bob Hyland, Gussie Busch and the biggest name ever in St. Louis public relations: Al Fleishman. “Al Fleishman was my mentor because we had worked on several charity projects together,” Quicksilver says. “One day, he said to me, Ya know, you need to go pro. But he insisted I still give 50 percent of my time to charitable organizations—and I did.”
In those days, the only big-name woman in St. Louis marketing and public relations was Ruth Jacobson, who became the first female executive at Fleishman-Hillard. Quicksilver acknowledges her as the person who carved a path for women in PR in St. Louis—a path Quicksilver followed. And it wasn’t long before she was named creative director at The Savan Company. It was there in the mid-70s that Quicksilver says she took an even bigger step out of the age of overwhelming male domination.
“One day, I discovered that a young man who was working for me was making a lot more money than I was,” she recalls. “When I questioned it, the response was, He’s a man, he has a family to support, so I quit.”
Quicksilver then became the founding partner of IQ & Associates; and for 18 years, she managed campaigns for the Saint Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Symphony, the Fox Theatre, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the Kool Jazz Festival, KMOX Radio and KPLR-TV, among a long list of others.
She even helped introduce Coors Beer into Budweiser’s front yard. “I worked for Coors,” she says. “Now, some would say I was masochist, but they contacted me and told me they were moving in to St. Louis. Mr. Coors came here and I introduced him to the hierarchy of St. Louis.”
Even in those days, Quicksilver says she still had to make some accommodations to a few men who just couldn’t get used to a feminine equal. “When I wanted to meet with a client for lunch, I had to call ahead to the restaurant and give them my credit card information. Men just couldn’t handle that a woman was going to pick up the check.”
Today, Quicksilver is as active as ever, maintaining a schedule that would be overwhelming for some people half her age. Her client list is more manageable these days, but includes the ever-expanding Lodging Hospitality Management group, which just unveiled the beautifully restored St. Louis Union Station Grand Hall to the public earlier this month.
Quicksilver also spends much of her time as volunteer by serving on boards and chairing events for groups such as Gateway to Hope—A Breast Cancer Lifeline, Doorways, Dance St. Louis, Women of Achievement (she was the youngest ever to be honored), Jazz St. Louis and Cancer Support Community, to name a few. Quicksilver is passionate about cancer research: She is a breast cancer survivor and lost her husband, Don, to colon cancer.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is her love for the New York Yankees. Quicksilver moved to St. Louis from New York when she was 15. Once, as a young girl, she got to sit next to Babe Ruth at a Yankees game, where he autographed her scorecard. That autograph is just one of many pinstripe memorabilia—her home is filled with it: everything from a toaster that brands a slice of bread with the team logo to a sculpture of Lou Gehrig and a miniature of the old Yankee Stadium.
She’s almost as proud of those keepsakes as she is of the photos of her beloved late husband and her family. She says her biggest achievement was raising her four sons.
And after all those years of telling the stories of others, here Joan was, sitting down with me to talk about herself. She just couldn’t quite accept that today, the spotlight was on her story—a story that probably wouldn’t have been well received by the Mad Men of Madison Avenue. But that era is long gone, and Joan Quicksilver is still commanding your attention, ready to make her next pitch.