The Woman in the Boardroom

I always thought of myself as an ad person, not an ad woman,” Myra says. “ What differentiated me more than my gender, I thought, was my academic background and my interest in research. What made me succeed were ideas that had nothing to do with gender - selling ‘benefits’ to the customer, searching out the truth, identifying problems and generating creative solutions.
— Myra Janco Daniels
Photo by Stefan Andreev

Photo by Stefan Andreev

With her relentless work ethic and fearless determination, Myra never let gender or age block her from reaching her objectives. At Indiana State University she became the youngest editor of a college newspaper in the US. At age 24, she launched her own ad agency, and within a year had 10 full-time employees, $1M in invoices, and a number of very satisfied clients. During her doctoral studies at Indiana University, she was appointed Associate Professor, the youngest in the school and the only woman to hold the position.

Myra was selected over 18 other applicants as Executive Vice President of Chicago ad firm Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst, Inc. Later, when Draper Daniels bought the agency, he named Myra President of the agency. She was the only woman in the US to hold the title with a major Ad agency. Myra claimed her stake in a business world historically dominated by men.

True enough, Myra has worked very hard to establish herself in the business world. Her name is synonymous with accomplishment. One can only marvel at her lifelong portfolio of work, including current projects, honors and speaking engagements.

But Myra's creativity and business sense were apparent very early in life.

Janco Party Favors

Myra's first business was Janco Party Favors, which she started at the young age of four. Her grandmother asked her one day if she would like to start a business, and after some consideration, Myra responded that she wanted to start a business around "Party Favors", because she loved colors and parties. Her grandmother loaned her the money to buy material, charging 2% interest. 

As Myra sat constructing her party favors at the dining room table, her father asked her "Why would anyone want to buy that?"

Perhaps discouraging words for most four-year olds, Myra's father's words challenged her to come up with a plan. Myra's grandmother's words also rang in her head: "Create something that people want and need, and you'll be successful."  

Myra generated a sales plan, and tracked her finances. She hired Hedgewood, a highly connected six-year-old, who could find out when the children's birthdays were. Together they would make sales calls to the children's parents. Myra and Hedgewood sold party baskets for a penny apiece, or two cents if she included fudge in the basket, and after two years Myra had $600 in the bank. 

Meis Department Store, Terre Haute, IN

Myra's first real experience as an ad executive began as an assistant to the President of Meis department store in Terre Haute. While the president was away, a shipment of cotton dresses arrived at the store, which they would sell for $7.95 each. Myra designed an ad campaign for the dresses and the store sold every single one.

When the president learned that Myra was responsible for the ad, he offered her a position. But instead of quitting school to take the job, Myra showed up early to work, commuted back to school, and then returned to Meis at night. 

Wabash Advertising Agency, Terre Haute, IN

While Myra was studying for her Bachelor's degree at Indiana State University, she decided that the town of Terre Haute needed a new ad agency. At age 24 and with only $200 in the bank, Myra launched Wabash Advertising Agency, and within a year had 10 employees and had invoiced over $1M. 

While Myra worked on her doctorate, she grew her business and affiliated with agencies in Cleveland and Chicago. Myra learned how to fly a plane to commute between the cities. 

During her career there, Myra introduced herself to the candy bar company L.S. Heath and Sons. The candy company had strong sales and wasn't necessarily interested in advertising. But as Myra stood one day observing the candy bars come off the production line, she asked what they do with the extra crumbs and pieces that were left over. 

"We give them to our friends. They like to put them on ice cream and desserts." 

The idea struck Myra to combine the ingredients - ice cream and toffee and chocolate - into a new product. She won the candy company's business by showing them a new product, and how to advertise it with recipes in the newspaper.

"How do you sell to someone who doesn't need advertising?" Myra learned that the answer to this question is to find why they need to advertise, find how to expand products, and show how to engage customers in the product.

Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst, Inc., Chicago, IL

Myra was selected as Executive Vice President to the Chicago firm Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst, Inc. Their clients included: American Trucking Association, Burney Bros., Swift, U.S. Homes, McGregor Sports, Speed Queen, Kroller, etc. 

With Myra as Vice President, the Chicago ad firm Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst Inc. was growing. But as their clientele expanded, the agency recognized a need for a creative genius. But hiring such a creative person would surely be expensive for the agency. 

In those days, Draper Daniels was considered a legend in the advertising world. His portfolio of work as Executive Vice President at Leo Burnett in Chicago included such iconic campaigns as the Jolly Green Giant, Allstate's "You're in Good Hands", and the Marlboro Man. 

Daniels had left the ad agency to work for the Kennedy Administration, but had returned to advertising after the assassination in 1963. He returned to Chicago's McCann-Erikson, but rumors circulated that he wasn't happy there.  

Draper Daniels Inc., Chicago, IL

Through a connection in the industry, Myra discovered that Draper Daniels - "Dan" as he called himself - might be interested in purchasing the agency. A meeting between Myra and Draper Daniels was arranged, and the two met at the office of Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst Inc.

He immediately began asking Myra questions about her perspective on advertising. She reluctantly answered question after question, but Draper Daniels never asked to review the company's business records. He continued to ask questions but not the ones Myra expected. Instead, Myra realized he was not interested in sales volume but in vision. He wanted to learn what the business could be. 

After a lengthy conversation and late dinner with Myra, Draper Daniels bought the agency, and asked Myra to stay on - as President. 

Under the Draper Daniels namesake, the company grew and changed, landing several major accounts. In effect, Dan was the Creative Director while Myra served as Marketing Director.

"It was a good fit," Myra says.