Norma Hanson: An Industry’s Hero

The millennial generation sees limitless possibility in almost every kind of endeavor. Being a part of this, the idea of being denied advancement because of my sex had never even crossed my mind. However, little did I know that this idea would soon be brought to the forefront of my attention. I came into contact with someone who had to face this realization and the associated challenge head-on at the very beginning of advertising as a profession.

On Oct. 1, the College of Communication at The University of Alabama welcomed educators, practitioners and students to its annual Advertising Day, a day-long event consisting of seminars, presentations and question-and-answer panels. There, individuals who excelled in the career field discussed their experiences and shared their knowledge. Some topics included media sales, nonprofits, sponsorships, design, portfolio building, political campaigns and minority-target advertising.

I attended the “Hall of Fame Role Models” presentation where I was fortunate enough to hear from an industry pioneer who quickly became a personal hero. Seventy-five-year-old Norma Hanson of Dothan, Ala., was described as the first female force behind the advertising world in Alabama. She was thrilled to be back at the university and was eager to share her experiences about a life of hard work plagued with continual gender struggles.

When she graduated from the university years ago, little was known about the advertising industry. Hanson’s only sources were her reading books, which were limited. A change of venue was in her future, so she packed her things and moved to Atlanta to interview at the advertising agency, Tucker Wayne.

“I had a mouth. I loved people and I knew how to sell. You need to sell yourself,” she said. Hanson was hired and proved her talent immediately. She was working long days, engaging in as many aspects of the career field that she could get her hands on. Hanson said, “I had a positive attitude…I wanted to learn…I was a sponge…What it took I wanted to do.”

Hanson was proud of the recognition she received within the company, especially with her boss. She never expected the day she was told her efforts and achievements were insignificant and the South was not ready for female accounting executives. This did not settle with Hanson—she was determined to break the mold.

In 1980, a young man came to her with a mission and an idea. He wanted to open an advertising and design firm and he wanted Hanson and her experience. She took the plunge.

“You need to be willing to step out from the norm and do something different. You need to be willing to take a risk,” Hanson said. Together they opened the firm Slaughter Hanson, which later became a $40 million agency. Hanson also opened the marketing and advertising agency, Norma Hanson & Associates in 2005. “I have tried to retire three times but I cannot stand the thought of not being in the middle of it,” Hanson said.

Hanson has worked within the marketing and advertising industry for more than 50 years. When asked what advice she has for students she said, “Being male or female is not the big issue. It’s wanting something and wanting it bad enough.” Last Thursday, Oct. 8, she was inducted into The University of Alabama’s C&IS Hall of Fame. She will be forever recognized as a hero in our industry.

by Meghan Zimmerman

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