Audrey Girard was a medical advertising pioneer, both in her professional capacity and as a role model for women now flourishing in our industry.
Growing up in England, Audrey learned about print production from her father, who was a printer. Among his clients was a paint company. While checking proofs for their color charts she learned to be meticulous and conscientious, traits which would serve her well in a career to come.
During World War II she volunteered for the British equivalent of the Women’s Army Corps, where she developed another important character trait: taking on important responsibilities. She was assigned to take notes for the planning of the Normandy invasion at General Eisenhower’s headquarters.
She came to the U.S. as a war bride, having married William Girard, an American Army Colonel. Putting her printing skills to use, she went to work in the production department of the J. B. Roerig Company, a mid-size pharmaceutical company located in Chicago, Illinois.
At Roerig, Audrey made her mark long before women were generally accepted in the business world, in fact, while they still faced substantial discrimination. Rising to the position of advertising manager, she became one of the very first female executives at a prominent pharmaceutical company, just as she was later to pioneer as the first woman to serve as president of the Pharmaceutical Advertising Club (now the HMCA).
In those days, advertising managers were the equivalent of today’s marketing directors, with substantial authority and responsibility. Her appointment to this position was a direct tribute to her business skills and judgment. As ad manager of J. B. Roerig, Audrey reported directly to the president and had the final say on most marketing strategy decisions. For many years after Roerig was acquired by Pfizer, it remained an autonomous unit, and her authority was undiminished. Only later, when the product manager system was introduced, did her role in the company change.
Audrey was responsible for the spectacularly successful marketing of such Roerig products as Antivert, Bonine, and Atarax. Each was promoted by heavy journal advertising and direct mail campaigns. Under Audrey’s direction, these campaigns stayed consistently on message, always featuring the same copy and art themes. Not only were the messages consistent, they were highly imaginative. “Vertigo, Vertigoing, Vertigone” for Antivert. “Blue at breakfast? In the pink with Bonine” for morning sickness. And for the tranquilizer, Atarax, “Peace of mind” and “When peace of mind can’t wait” when the parenteral form was introduced. Although the term had yet to be invented, this was branding at its most effective and Audrey understood and utilized it to the fullest.
Since Audrey’s skills did not include copywriting, what she contributed to the creative process was an unfailing ability to inspire the agency to do its best and to approve and appreciate good work when it was presented. She also realized the advantage of consistency and reinforcement – to let campaigns run month after month, even year after year, without changing the basic message. All of these qualities made her the perfect client for an agency – tough, demanding, highly focused, determined. At the same time she was supportive, appreciative of good work, and never let her ego get in the way of doing what was best for her employer.
Since she passed away in 1983, younger people in the industry did not have the privilege of getting to know Audrey or her work. But they should be aware of what she did as an industry pioneer, shaping what the field of medical advertising is now, and blazing a trail for equal opportunity for women. For these reasons, she deserves to honored for her lifetime’s work.