Agency lessons I learned from Mad Men, part three

Well, another season of Mad Men has ended.  And who knows how long it’s going to be before the next one begins? 

While many things have changed since the days when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was a force to be reckoned with, each season offers me more insights into the intricacies of agency life (and also subliminally makes me want to drink and smoke at work, but that’s another story).

Here are this season’s lessons.  Warning, if you haven’t watched it, there may be some plot spoilers ahead: 

  1. Pitching is storytelling.  Pure and simple.  Sure you can add some pizzazz – it is a bit of a show, after all.  But if you can weave a spellbinding tale demonstrating you understand how to solve a client's problem, you’re well on your way to winning. It’s very much like the basics of social media – create an engaging conversation. Episode reference: At dinner with a client, Megan discovers the agency is about to be fired and whispers the news to Don. Without missing a beat Don turns the conversation into a perfectly-executed pitch and saves the day. That’s thinking on your feet.
  2. Pick your battles and know when to walk away. There’s a time to fight for an idea and a time to know when you’ve missed the client’s mark and have to put your tail between your legs, release your bitterness and get back to the drawing board with an open mind.  That’s something Don instinctively knows and Peggy learns the hard way. Episode reference: Peggy loses it when the client says no to yet another idea and is removed from an account.
  3. Don’t burn bridges…make good relationships last. There’s never an ideal time to leave a job. But if you’ve made the decision, be professional about it, offer honest, not hurtful feedback and ensure you leave with the door open.  That’s not as easy as it sounds. A lot of people fall prey to giving their boss an ill-advised piece of their mind only to regret it later. (Don't ask…) Episode reference: Peggy tells Don she’s accepted another position and maintains her composure even when a flustered Don throws a wad of money at her. Then she leaves quietly and without fanfare, yet with her dignity. And we know that she’ll be able to come back if she wants to – hopefully next season :).
  4. We all want a leader who inspires us to greatness. People will rise to the occasion and do what it takes to support a person with passion, who clearly articulates a vision that's both aspirational and believable and demonstrates it through actions and not just talk.  We'll even work extra hours and wear our commitment like a badge of honour. Episode reference: Don’s rousing speech about how winning Jaguar will put the agency on the map and that he knows he can count on everyone to put in extra time during the holidays to make it happen.

If you’re interested, here are links to my other Mad Men posts: agency lessons one and agency lessons two.

And here’s a bonus post from Adam Vincenzini on Roger Sterling’s pearls of wisdom.

What have you learned about the agency world or business from Mad Men?  And…while we’re on the subject, where do you think the plot is headed?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

dogwalkblog 1 Like

Peggy is not coming back. It is against her nature. The only people who come back are the weak ones who can't grow bigger than SCDP. That is not Peggy at all! She will still be part of the show because Mad Men is more than just about SCDP Where is the plot headed? Where real life heads, into the unknown for no other reason that to continue to ensure the survival of the advertising industry. Eventually, SCDP will fold up as its purpose will have run its course and the characters will scatter into other things... it is a moment in time, a stop on the Hobo Rail Line for Don, the end of the line for Roger and where Peggy hops on board. The plot of Mad Men is just an excuse to explore meaning in the human condition. In other words, I dunno, but it will be closer to the soul of verisimilitude than most people feel comfortable getting :-)

martinwaxman moderator

Thanks for your comment @dogwalkblog. I enjoyed your post a lot - great point about Don and his personality, by the way. I agree about the four steps you mention. I also think that sometimes life becomes messier and rather than going from create to nurture to release, we jump around a bit, go from create to release or from release back to nurture or sometimes even create. That's why I think Peggy will return - maybe as a partner and with a client. I guess we'll see...

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Kristinesimpson 1 Like

Such a unique post Martin. This really makes me want to start watching the series. :)

martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @Kristinesimpson. I've really enjoyed it.

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ginidietrich 1 Like

This is awesome! Do you keep notes throughout the season so you have something to refer back to (yes, I know I could ask you this in person because you're sitting across from me right this second)?? I like the fourth one because everyone was excited to work through the holidays in order to win that one piece of business. Of course, I want my holidays as much as everyone else so I'd never ask that of my team, but there are nights and weekends you have to devote and I like how he got them all excited to do it.

martinwaxman moderator

...And thanks, by the way! @ginidietrich

martinwaxman moderator

This is the first time I've responded to a comment from across the table @ginidietrich. I should keep notes - next season - then maybe I'd get 10 tips.

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