Since Mad Men

A personal account of advertising agency life by Debra Sheridan,
President of IVY Marketing Group on its 20th Anniversary

For those of you who watch Mad Men on AMC, you are probably stunned by the antics of the early 1960’s advertising agency creatives and partners.  Well, when I entered the large advertising agency scene in the early 1970’s, things weren’t much better.  I had to lie about being able to type over 90 words per minute so that I could get into the creative department rather than the secretarial pool.  Oh, and yes, I was asked to be my boss’ “friend” with the assurance that doing so would bring me great career advancements, on more than one occasion.  After a particularly trying large agency experience, I found that better-behaved creative and business people could be found in smaller agencies (perhaps there were just fewer place to hide, people to blame). But as anyone who works in this business knows, once it gets into your blood — you’re hooked.

As a writer and account executive, there was a great deal of freedom to work from home.  A perfect solution for my husband and three children.  As always, all things come to an end and the agency where I was working, decided to close in early 1990.  To keep my flexibility and serve my five clients as promised, I started IVY Integrated Marketing, our original name until one of our receptionists changed it to IVY Marketing because she thought it was entirely too difficult to say.  We made that official in 1997 with IVY Marketing Group.  IVY is named for my parents, Ruth and Paul Ivy.   Since the name ends with them, I wanted to give them a legacy that would be a tribute to their intelligence, integrity and creativity.

Business in 1990 was very different then, than it is now.  For starters, I only needed a computer for word processing and a laser printer.  The big question was “should I buy an Apple or an IBM computer?”  Apple offered the Apple II or the Mac but there was also the PC, a far more affordable option.  A printer, calculator, our brand new logo foil stamped and embossed on business cards, stationery and envelopes resided on newly-purchased used furniture.  A postage meter was not in the budget; neither was a fax machine which was now popular in the business world but priced in the thousands of dollars range.  The only vestige from the first days is an HP laser printer which remains faithful by my side, kicking out every page I ask of it.  We’ve been through scads of printers and computers since our opening day.  I will take it as a sign that I should retire if my little printer ever gives up.

I was fortunate to pioneer the cellular phone for AT&T.  It was installed in my car requiring several hours of technical know-how but had a feature that allowed it to be disconnected so it was portable.  While I don’t remember its weight, it was about the size of two reams of paper when in its case.

On August 17, 1990, IVY Integrated Marketing was incorporated.  With me was my wonderful graphic designer and now dear friend, Noreen Mancini.  She comfortably worked at her drafting table, with a razor blade usually resting between her teeth, hot wax gun in hand and Letraset, sheets of dry transferrable lettering, at the ready.  I had my PC computer, my little printer and collection of supplies.  Getting Noreen off the drafting board and onto a computer was very challenging.  I bought her the nicest Mac we could afford and sent her to class.  It took years before I heard her whisper that she loved the computer.

We grew the company to serve many clients and 18 employees in 3 short years.  Our business expanded to include senior housing, residential developments, retail and office asset management companies along with state and local governments.  We were surrounded by electronic gadgets like scanners, copiers, printers, cameras along with our computers and printers.

Agency life got sweeter when we started using email and the internet.  After years of rifling through books and periodicals at the library, I could find information at my desk via my state-of-the-art one-gigabyte computer.  We loaded up on fancy software, even an expensive accounting system so we could bill not just by the hour but by the copy, the fax or the postage amount.  We could even cut down the time to complete projects and better communicate with clients with e-mail — wow!

But, I was about to get my own professional jolt in 2005, when the world of marketing, advertising and public relations was reinventing itself.  With a foundation in public relations, our concern grew when paper and magazine pages dwindled and public service announcements were only at 2 a.m.  That meant IVY Marketing Group needed to change with the technology.  Today, we have sharpened our skills to include anything online — social media, blogs, public relations and advertising.

It’s still a mad, mad world, but we love it.  And, so today, 20 years later, we are excited about the amazing people we’ve worked with and for… the plethora of communications opportunities available to our clients… and what we will learn and implement tomorrow.

It’s addicting!  The fast-paced, ever changing world of public relations and marketing captures your interest and keeps you charged up to learn more everyday.  I love to find the best ways to tell our client’s stories and man, they have awesome stories!

It’s my job to discover our client’s goals and then match the best processes to achieve them, within their budgets, of course.  I get to explore traditional, digital and every manner of communication to determine which tactics, whether it is direct mail or TV advertising, a new website or PPC (to name just a few) will efficiently and effectively capture the attention of prospects. 

I also get to work with great people at IVY – they’re creative, fun, caring and super smart.  We’ve all been around the industry a while so there is not a novice among us.  Our clients are very cool too and totally passionate about the services they offer.  We’ve been working with most of them for years so we know they truly care about being innovative and responsible to the markets they service.  I have great admiration for all of them and look forward to every day. 

It’s true what “they” say, if you love what you do, you won’t work a day of your life!


IVY was established in 1990 with a basic premise to offer professional, ethical and highly creative marketing, advertising and public relations services. We have successfully maintained our core values and have been part of many amazing projects, client growth and changes in the world of marketing that continue to happen at lightening speed. Most of our clients serve older adults in some capacity so we keep abreast of the opportunities and challenges they face.   Each day, we keep it real and fun and consistently deliver positive results to our clients and their markets.


As a hybrid graphic and digital designer/web developer with over 17 years of experience, I am always on the lookout for innovative digital and print visual communications. IVY Marketing Group’s broad range of projects keeps my job challenging and rewarding, as each campaign is a new and exciting opportunity to effectively communicate our clients’ messages and help them achieve their goals. It’s my passion!

My body of work encompasses a diverse design style and wide base of clients, ranging from national associations, small businesses and big name brands like Hyatt and LiftMaster. I firmly believe that form follows function and highly value the communicative power of simplicity. 

Areas of professional expertise include Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Word Press, Responsive Design, CSS3, and HTML5. The industries I’ve served include senior living, health care, hospitality and finance.


All my life, I have loved writing. As a child, I could often be found in my room “writing a book.” While “novelist” is not (yet) on my resume, I am a storyteller. I believe that everyone and everything has a great story, and it is my joy to find that story and share it with the world.

After earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism and completing my master’s studies in the same field, I joined a small advertising agency with powerhouse clients in the hospitality industry, such as Hyatt, Hilton International and Carnival Cruise Lines. I began as a proofreader and achieved the position of senior copy writer within a year.

After my first son was born, followed by two more, I started a freelance writing business that included (among several others) such clients as Advocate Health Care and Coldwell-Banker Realty. Clients in the education arena included DeVry University’s Becker CPA and Stalla CFA Reviews, DePaul University, and Naperville School District 203, for which I won two state public relations awards.

For nine years, I was employed as Communications Director for a large faith community, where I managed all aspects of internal and external communications. I was writer, editor, designer, web master, and content manager.

As such, I am experienced and comfortable writing multimedia for a broad variety of industries, products and services.

I joined IVY Marketing Group in 2013, when I began writing client press releases on a freelance basis. I loved the work—and my teammates—so much, I was thrilled when I was invited to come on board in a greater capacity.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know our valued clients in the senior housing industry, the people they serve, and telling the many wonderful stories that come out of content marketing done right—with the love and care our IVY teams puts into everything we do.


It all starts with one idea. Working with the Ivy creative team for over two decades has always meant taking one great idea and bringing it to life to help our clients meet their goals. We enjoy the challenges offered with every creative opportunity and try to make the design process itself enjoyable for our clients.


Making certain that the projects IVY produces are word- and picture-perfect is my specialty. But I also love implementing marketing campaigns and programs that bring our clients success. Details are my thing, so it is a pleasure to have worked with IVY twice now, first after college four years ago and, recently, for the past two years.

The IVY Group is a terrific team of creative, positive and talented professionals that I love working with and, judging from the length of stay of our clients, I think they love our team, too!


Rock-climbing, training for an 80-floor stair climb event, running a 5K…This is just a tiny peek into what people 20 and even 30 years older than I am, are doing on a fairly regular basis at some of the retirement communities that IVY represents.

I’m of the generation that still has reoccurring nightmares about what the next step looked like when my grandmother could no longer live by herself. The very best option at that time was living at a “facility” and  included eating rubbery chicken and playing an occasional game of BINGO. Period. That’s why my parent’s generation begged us not to ever put them into “one of those places.”

I am so proud that IVY’s clients are at the very forefront of an industry that creates opportunities, challenges, and most of all freedom for seniors, allowing them to explore hobbies, interests, passions…the next chapter of their very full lives.

I feel reassured for my own future. Even more, I feel honored to be able to share the impactful stories about this paradigm shift in the world of senior housing. What we hear and see at our clients’ communities is fascinating and inspiring!


Keeping up to date on new public relations strategies, online engagement tactics, and promotional tools is my passion.

With my hospitality background in marketing top Chicago restaurants and hotels, I was eager to bring fresh concepts and communication strategies to our clients and have really enjoyed learning various industries.

Our clients have such exciting and unique events and programs, which really makes it motivating for me to make the most of their content.  Results like increased sales leads, website visits and social media connections make everyday rewarding and interesting.


I oversee, plan and implement projects and processes at IVY.  Often,  I am the conduit between our writers and designers, with printers, and other vendors to fulfill the marketing needs for our clients. I also manage media buys and coordinate production of advertisements.

Working for a flexible and fluid company that is constantly growing, changing and evolving is fun and rewarding. There is always something new to learn.


My bio has a big blank in the beginning—Mom and Dad rescued me in Wisconsin, and no one really knows my origins. They were probably ruff. What matters though is where I am now, running IVY Marketing Group. There are humans here who think they’re in charge. In truth, they do actually have amazing experience in content marketing and public relations, but I’m super important and the center of attention. I mean, look at this face. Right? And I know I’m the top dog because honestly, I’m the only one allowed to sleep through staff meetings and eat things that people drop on the floor.

The fact is though that I truly love staying awake at staff meetings. Everyone talks and laughs and they’re always excited. That surprises me a little because it’s not like anyone has thrown a ball to play fetch or anything. But I guess what gets my pack of peoples’ tails wagging is their work and their clients. I don’t know what a website or a blog is, but I do know that my pack must be good at them because they’ve earned all sorts of awards for these and other things. My bed had to be moved because the framed certificates were taking up so much room. Despite the inconvenience, I’m proud of these awards!

I serve several important purposes at IVY. I always let Mom (and the world) know when the mailman is here. When people come into the office, just one (usually) quick non-invasive (usually) sniff, allows me to determine important characteristics…like if they had anything good for breakfast, own any pets (pet owners are the best!) or if they stepped in anything on the way in. (It’s sort of like me conducting a first job interview.) I generously share my tummy because I know people like to give it a good scratch. I always give kisses, whether one is feeling lonely or not. And I’m always happy to share someone’s meal, especially if they’re trying to lose weight. My pack describes me as being engaging, amusing, and entertaining. (When I hear a siren, I “sing” along and it makes them laugh.) NPR talks about the benefits of having a pet at the workplace. Studies show pets lower stress hormones and improve morale and productivity. I wholeheartedly agree that a dog in the workplace is the best thing since rawhide bones.

As for my pack of people at IVY…they are amazing and always make my tail wag!


I could not be more thrilled to work alongside the IVY team.

For over 25 years, I have been employed in top executive positions across the Chicago area and have consistently built profitable businesses, generated sales, and developed and launched new product lines.

Strategically positioning companies and commodities for growth is a strong suit I’m eager to bring to ResponderHub™, IVY’s new crisis communications solution. I’m also excited to help expand IVY’s reach in the senior marketing industry.

I believe people are more open than ever to thinking outside the box and looking at new ways to reach their customer base, while at the same time reducing their cost of sale. The senior industry is exploding, and IVY is perfectly positioned to respond to the need for innovative, quality content marketing services and effective crisis communications.


I love being able to use my skills to help improve other people’s lives, and with a growing elderly population, it’s important to create meaningful and user-friendly digital solutions to aid the senior living industry.I have a wide range of technology and design skills with a deep interest in Human-Computer Interaction– helping IVY provide outstanding web design and print design services. IVY has a long-proven track record of excellence, and I’m proud to be able to help carry on that tradition.