Dancing with all of my Heart

When I received the email inviting me to participate in a one-night “Dancing with the Stars” style competition to raise money for the Catholic Schools of my hometown Philadelphia, I said yes faster than my fingers could hit the keys. They say “you can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl” and that is so true in my case. I have always been loyal to those who ‘brought’ me and even though I have never waltzed, cha-cha-ed or tango’d onstage, nothing can stop me now.

I’ve begun four months of training with a fabulous dancer/choreographer/teacher here in NYC and on March 21st, we will hit the dance floor at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. Scared? Not yet. Excited? Over the moon. Please check out www.dancingforourfuturestars.com for details and vote for me anytime if you have the heart! 4700 kids will thank you. (Me, too!)shoese too!)

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Rewriting the Rules of How We Work

Over the years, I have been part of many teams, stretching from my first years in a large, global corporation, through my decade in the competitive ad agency world, my years as an entrepreneur. Each experience came with its own approach to management and staffing. But my latest endeavor, The God Box Project, has been my first foray into creative a team the new-fashioned way with a wired and unwired network of global talent, handpicked for their expertise. The piece that I wrote in Forbes.com explains how it all began.

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My latest project: “The God Box,” full of faith, love and letting go

Imagine traveling the country and learning about women–their deepest and often unspoken feelings? Imagine sharing stories of love, loss, hope with perfect strangers who soon become friends? Imagine seeing faces that reveal that the women they’ve become is rooted in the mother who bore them?…and all the while, raising money for causes in need?

That has been my experience of the past month, every single day.

On April 14th, at the Coaches V Cancer event in my hometown of Philadelphia, I launched my new book The God Box: Sharing my mother’s gift of faith, love and letting go. And seven days a week since then, I have spoken, hugged and shared my story. The book is about the discovery of my Mom’s God Boxes filled with loving prayers, 20 years worth of every worry, hiccup and hope for family, friends and even strangers.

I knew that even writing a book with “God” in the title might make some people wonder what I was up to. After all, business people rarely cross lines of politics or religion or any boundary that might seem too personal. And here I was, on the road talking about faith, motherhood and the heartbreak of losing my mother. But you know what? There’s a lot of yearning out there for honest talk about the relationship that formed us first and the underlying beliefs that get us through life. The book is spiritual and inspirational and I am proud to share that it has been recommended by PARADE, Redbook, Family Circle and this week by USA Today as the number one book for Mother’s Day.

We have been covered in the Wall St. Journal, the Huffington Post and the NY Post and I’ve written blogs for the New York Times’ Motherlode, Parents.com, Belief. net and this Sunday for the Wall St. Journal, all exploring the nature of mothers, both in life and after death.

The book garnered bestseller status in the first two weeks on amazon and Barnes and Noble and both the online and brick and mortar stores blew through their stock in a heartbeat. We have gone to a second printing and we are just getting started. The book is not about one holiday or one life. But about the hopes we harbor for those we love and the way we can learn to let go.

I have traveled so many miles and frankly, shed some tears but I sit here a month later and want to say, this is the loveliest journey into understanding women that I have ever taken. And men are along for this ride too. And in my own way, I believe my Mom is enjoying it as well.

Hope you will check out the book right here on the home page. I can say that right now, I couldn’t be happier.

Hands on,
Mary Lou


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Mad Women for a Change

Last night I was invited to a terrific party hosted by Ken Roman, former chairman of Ogilvy. The occasion was the debut of a new book by the wonderful creative director and writer Jane Maas. It’s called “Mad Women” published by St. Martin’s Press.  The book takes a fun and honest look at what it was really like for women in ad agencies in the sixties and seventies. Was there really that much sex?  Were women relegated to the steno pool, no matter their ambitions and talent? Jane’s book says, yes and even more so than in the Mad Men series. She interviewed me for the book, not because I was one of those women (I was in grade school!) but because my mom worked in ad agencies throughout those decades. For the record, my mom did her share of typing and shorthand but thankfully avoided the seamier side of the inter-departmental relationships that Jane vividly describes.

In her book, Jane retells my story of how I grew up at a dinner table where storyboards and media plans were normal conversation. My mother loved working in advertising, certainly more than cooking dinner. She once worked for an agency where the Campbells soup account came under fire for exaggerating the pile of vegetables in a soup shoot, so she was in charge of counting exactly how many string beans, peas and carrots were in a can and verifying that the bowl was ‘honest’ before the cameras rolled. I love that she loved her work and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Not that it was as racy as the TV drama but advertising did bring out the crazy in a lot of people.

Jane is headed out on a 40 city tour, (OMG!) and having done it myself, I wish her a lot of great applause, as many flight upgrades as she can get and a good night’s sleep or three.

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Asking for It (or Positive Thinking About Negative Feedback)

Check out Mary Lou’s blog for the Huffington Post! Her latest adventure has been taking The God Box on stage, performing in her own one woman, one act play. A new role that requires her to ask audience members and peers for feedback, both positive and negative (well, we prefer the term constructive).

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Mary Lou’s Blog for Huffington Post: What Mom taught me about Valentine’s Day

Want to know what Mom taught me about Valentine’s Day? Check out @HuffingtonPost http://huff.to/yn5h8n #LoveNotes#HappyValentine‘sDay

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The Importance of Being Kate

As the year ends, we’re inundated with “Best of” or “of the Year” lists: “Best Movies of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” “2011’s Best Restaurants,” and so on.  E! is tweeting about whether its’ “Celeb of the Year” is Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart; Grantland declared this Ryan Gosling’s break-out year, and Jezebel’s Woman of the Year shortlist includes Gabby Giffords, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton.  While all of these are deserving in their own right and realm, have no doubt.

This was the Year of Kate.

The ring.  The hair.  The wedding.  The bridesmaid.  The North American tour.  Everything about her year was fantastic (from the my point of view, at least), and while one could argue that her tangible effect on the world was minimal, her effect on retail was not.  UK-based retailer Reiss was one of the most obvious benefactors of the “Kate Middleton Effect”, posting a near doubling in profits after she wore one of the brand’s dresses in her engagement photo.  The mad scramble to purchase the dress she wore during an official visit by the Obamas crashed the company’s website.  If you google “Kate Middleton Sapphire Ring” replica, you get 893,000 hits, with pricetags ranging from $6 to $10,000.  My mother, a reasonable 50-something woman who’s not that into jewelry, got one.  Even I, who have lived in London and have respect for, but no delusions about, Britain’s monarchy, instructed my hairdresser prior to a wedding this year that I wanted “Kate Middleton hair.”

So if Kate Middleton is appeals to women, how are retailers marketing to women on the back of this phenomenon?  Reiss, for one, is merely standing aside and letting Kate do the work.  An article on Kate’s “Midas touch” in Britain’s Daily Mail commented:

“Notoriously guarded about its clientele, Reiss declines to discuss Catherine’s endorsement, simply saying that the Duchess has long been a loyal customer at Reiss and always looks stunning.

Privately though, staff admit to being ‘delighted,’ a sentiment that is no doubt echoed from the shop floor right up to the boardroom.”

Kate Middleton is appealing to many women because she is the antidote to all the Kims and Lindsays of the world; she’s elegant, not showy, refined instead of gaudy.  Make no mistake, though, this presentation is on purpose.  She is marketing herself, albeit in a much more subtle way than, say, Gaga.  Reiss made the wise choice of doing the same; sometimes the most intelligent marketing to women doesn’t look like marketing at all.

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Christmas Crazy

Every year, I go Christmas crazy. I don’t mean baking cookies or making lists. I mean whole hog decorating. I scout Bed, Bath and Beyond for LED willow branches and Pier One for their rhinestone throw pillows that no one will want to lean on. I buy stuff that will only be used for three more weeks before it’s hauled back to storage. Yes, Christmas crazy.

I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. My Mom, Mary Finlayson, was never interested in decorating for the holidays other than saying, “Look at our sad sack house. We should at least put up a few candles.” That was enough to send me to the basement to dig up last year’s stuff and then head out to buy more of anything that twinkled. As long as I was willing to trim it, hang it, fluff it up, I could accessorize to my heart’s content. After hours of bedazzling, I’d stand outside on the sidewalk gazing proudly at our little Philadelphia rowhouse– my handmade version of Whoville.

Growing up, our family was never allowed to have a real pine tree because Mom said she was allergic. So each year, I would assemble our aluminum tree, which was really a silver-painted broomstick with holes where we stuck the silver pom pom branches, added our assortment of mismatched ornaments and ho-ho-ho! Instant tree. We put our gifts under that same anemic tree for at least 15 years until my senior year in college.  That year, inspired by my 70s back-to-nature spirit and a cute boyfriend, I went on a tree-cutting date and brought a beautiful balsam to my parents’ house, declaring the beginning of the Finlayson fresh tree tradition.

We decorated it with every old ornament from our well worn boxes. I may even have strung popcorn in a fit of ye good ole days. The fragrance was Christmas itself. And Mom smiled. “Hey, Mom, why aren’t you sneezing? I thought you were allergic.” “No, never was,” Mom smiled. “I just didn’t want to clean up all those pine needles.”

Mom’s gone now. I think about her every time I place an ornament on my overdone tree. Yep, still crazy after all these years.

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Express to sponsor Miss America pageant

Express, Inc., announced sponsor of 2012 Miss America Pageant

In a release issued earlier today, retail apparel chain Express, Inc., has been named the official sponsor of the 2012 Miss America pageant.  The news provides interesting insight into how both brands plan to continue marketing to women.

My own impression of the Express brand is positive, but dated; when I think of Express, I think of the silky geometric blouse I purchased there in 1992.  It was black, teal, and hot mauve, and I loved it.  That’s the last thing I purchased there.  If I were to hear they were retooling their brand, perhaps with help from Victoria Beckham or Lady Gaga, I’d happily give them another shot, if only to see what the heck that would look like.

The Miss America pageant, however, is not one of the partnerships that’s drawing me back in.  I know pageants have a fervent following, but shows like Toddlers and Tiaras have thrown a spotlight on their more objectionable aspects in a “so-awful-I-can’t-look-away” manner.  Is that how Express wants to reach the 20 to 30 year old customer it targets?

The deal makes more sense to me from Miss America’s perspective; they want to focus on scholarship and service, and Express does come with a certain “Working Girl” vibe.  However, as I said before, “black, teal, and hot mauve.”  If Miss America is looking to modernize their image, is this the right way to go?

What do you think?  Will Express’s sponsorship of the Miss America pageant reach women?

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For American Latinos Twitter is Facebook’s alter ego

Hear what our friends at Greencard Creative have to say about Twitter in the Latino community:

“When it comes to social networking there is clear difference between Facebook and Twitter for American Latinos. Some may argue Facebook has been out there longer, but how can you explain the recent jump to 22 million of American Latinos Facebook users in the last year? Others will say it’s about access, well, they are both free, online and mobile. Different than other groups Facebook reflects the American Latinos’ hybrid identity, not just Latino or American, or somewhere in between, or trying to be either.  As we discovered, that is why almost 9 out of 10 of the new American Latinos do not have Twitter*.

NetworkFacebook is about “talking” “sharing life,” it is not just about simplifying and integrating both their real lives with their virtual ones seamlessly, but actually becoming an extension of themselves from the moment they wake up, at home, while commuting, at work, with friends, at parties. It is a two-way conversation where they can engage, chose who to engage with at all times. It is social facetime value as opposed to a popularity contest.

As for Twitter, they see it more as a one-way street, “it’s all about yourself,” not as engaging or deep, “it’s just status, not stories,” and it feels more superficial. The idea of “following” someone is not as empowering. They also said Twitter feels a bit colder and more “American,” and Facebook is more like them, combining emotions and technology.

What this means to brands reaching this target audience its key: it’s all about creating relevant engaging content either through social media, mobile app, or on the web, that allows them to be themselves, and collaborate among their already-established network with platforms that drive participation with engaging emotions.

Check out some inspiring ideas and innovative content-driven platforms by AOL’s digital prophet David Shing at AWNY’s Advertising Career Conference.  Great examples on how to engage with American Latinos, the leading mobile audience.”

Help to end the stereotypes in the Unites States by voting to end the “Hispanic” term  at Hispanicsaredead.com.

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April 1, 2020
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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