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Real-Life Peggy Olsons: Dorothy Sayers and Charlotte MacLeod

These two female mystery writers – and advertising execs – figured out how to have it all.

Real-Life Peggy Olsons: Dorothy Sayers and Charlotte MacLeod

Peggy Olson, the savvy businesswoman on Mad Men, who tenaciously climbs the ranks from copywriter to creative director of Don Draper’s ad agency, is one of the breakout stars of the show. Yet, in reality, only 3 percent of advertising creative directors are women.

We don’t know who Peggy Olson was actually inspired by, but her career path – and her tenacity – reminds us of two famous mystery authors: Dorothy L. Sayers and Charlotte MacLeod. Both women excelled in the advertising industry … and managed to write spectacularly popular mystery novels at the same time.

Advertising firms and mystery lovers, please take note.


 

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Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

The author of the acclaimed Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers also wrote a well-respected translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and numerous plays, poetry, and theological pieces. She was one of the first women graduates of Oxford University and had first honor in medieval literature. Oh, and she also rode a motorcyle at a time when women hardly drove.

In addition to all this, she was a copywriter at the Bensons advertising agency in London, doing so well that she had her own office on the top floor. Sayers is responsible for many advertisements still well known today, more than 90 years later, such as the Mustard Club and Guinness Toucan jingle: “If he can say as you can / Guinness is good for you / How grand to be a Toucan / Just think what Toucan do.”

To combine her expertise in mystery writing and advertising, Sayers even wrote a Lord Peter Wimsey book called Murder Must Advertise.

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Charlotte MacLeod (1922-2005)

At 6 a.m. every Sunday morning, Charlotte MacLeod put on a comfortable bathrobe and got to work, diligently composing new mystery novels. In the afternoon, she started the process of revision.

It worked pretty well: By the time of her death in 2005, she sold over 1 million books, most notably the Peter Shandy and Sarah Kelling & Max Bittersohn mystery series.

This disciplined approach to writing served her well – not just as an author, but in her career in advertising. Like Peggy Olson and Dorothy Sayers, MacLeod started by writing copy, working for the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company. She eventually rose in rank, becoming vice president of the advertising firm N.H. Miller & Co.

Macleod lived in Boston and Maine for much of her life, and we have a hunch she inspired a New England advertising revolution: All four of the biggest advertising firms in Boston are now run by women.

 

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