Maureen Regan
Inducted 2023
Reporting on the life and career of Maureen Regan presents something of a challenge. No matter how hard one might try to steer the conversation toward Maureen the professional, it always veers back to Maureen the person. The stories are legion and hilarious. There was the time she kept a client’s private plane idling on the runway so that she could grab doughnuts for the flight. There was the motivational speech she gave in advance of a major pitch, described by one person who heard it as “in the style of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.” There was the unauthorized bagpipe parade through the offices of Lally, McFarland and Pantello on St. Patrick’s Day, complete with copious quantities of green beer. “We had a lot of fun,” Regan says. “We worked our tails off but we were always laughing.” Entertaining as they are, these stories shouldn’t overwhelm Regan’s ceiling-smashing tenure as an agency chief. The first woman president of a major healthcare advertising agency, Regan succeeded everywhere she went, presiding over long relationships with a laundry list of A-list clients (Procter & Gamble, Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim among others). Regan charted an unusual course to the Hall. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Regan and her five sisters grew up around her father’s service station. “Everything I learned, I learned in a gas station,” she says. “If the gas jockey didn’t show up, well, guess who was the gas jockey?” After graduating from high school, Regan attended nursing school, which proved a less than ideal fit. “I joke that the numerous times I had to do CPR on the street, I always did a little curtsy and said, ‘Second from the bottom in my nursing class!’” Following a short stretch at the “insanely understaffed” Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan, Regan briefly carried the bag for Abbott Laboratories. Her first agency job was at Lally, McFarland and Pantello, where she cut her teeth on the firm’s Procter & Gamble business. Her Lally colleagues recognized something in Regan from the start. She counts founding partner Ron Pantello, the former chairman of Havas Health, co-founder of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (with MM+M founder David Gideon) and a 2009 MAHF inductee himself, as a mentor – and a groundbreaking leader in his own right. “Ron didn’t care what the gender of the person was. He was just about the results,” she says. Pantello remains a good friend, joking in his MAHF nomination that “if Mo was in the room, you knew it… There is only one Mo; maybe that’s a good thing.” Regan left Lally in 1997 with two longtime colleagues, strategist Rich Campbell and creative exec Brendan Ward, to form Regan Campbell Ward. “It was a weird time for me personally to start a business. I got married late and just had a son,” Regan says. “But I knew I wouldn’t get an offer like this again.” The McCann-backed firm got off to a fast start, snaring business from Sanofi in its second year and claiming Novartis as its largest client before long. Still, the work took a toll: Regan recalls day trips to Basel and a 72-hour turnaround to and from Japan. “My son wrote in a school essay, ‘My mom goes to California for lunch,’” she quips. Regan’s successful leadership of RCW resonated with her female colleagues in particular. 2019 MAHF inductee Charlene Prounis is quick to tout her personal and professional generosity. Regan’s passion for advertising left an impression on Prounis: “A media person interviewed us after the CEO of BMS said, ‘I don’t believe in advertising.’ Maureen almost jumped up: ‘You gotta advertise! It’s the only thing that works!’ She was a fervent believer.” That belief, Prounis adds, translated into everything Regan did. “She showed how you could lead a group of people with heart.” Regan remains disappointed about McCann’s elimination of the RCW brand, noting that “it wasn’t a decision we really had a say in.” At the same time, when asked to share her thoughts on the state of the business, Regan responds, “I’m glad I operated in an easier landscape, frankly.” As for what might come next, Regan dismisses such talk, noting that “the ‘r’ word” is not in her vocabulary. She lists her current occupation as “ski bum,” describing the sport as “a great passion of mine, and probably not a smart one at my age.” When it comes to her legacy, Regan hopes it will be the fun she helped inject into a pressure-filled business. “That’s what business in general, and not just advertising, is missing: The fun,” she says. “These faux parties that people have to show up to now – is there spontaneous dancing? The best people go into advertising not only because they love it, but because it’s more fun than accounting.”