Oct 232010

Article first published as The Mad Men Ride Into Tomorrowland on Blogcritics.

All in all, the season four Mad Men finale was pretty tame compared to the dramatic upheavals ushered in at the end of season three. Other than Don’s engagement to Megan there were not any big developments or new shake-ups that would dramatically alter the operations and fate of SCDP. Slowly but surely things were starting to look up again for the agency. The partners’ outrage at Don’s manifesto ad in the New York Times calmed down as progress was made on the American Cancer Society assignment. Smart and timely action by Peggy and Ken landed a new pantyhose client. Joan received some well deserved, albeit non-compensated, recognition in her promotion to Director of Agency Operations and Lane seemed to have steadied SCDP’s rocky financial condition.

Not For Profit: Visibility & Connections

There is a lot riding on winning the American Cancer Society business. Creating a highly visible anti smoking campaign would be a huge shot in the arm for the agency. The account would provide a small revenue stream, energize the creative teams, and get people in the business and potential clients talking about SCDP. Don used his insider knowledge as the basis for the recommendation that the Society reach out to younger, teen consumers to stem the tide of new smokers. A risky but smart strategy that would demand dramatic work and stir up controversy. It prompted one board member to ask Don why he thought it would work. When Don answered, “I can guarantee you one thing, Lucky Strike won’t like it” he seemed to get their attention. A campaign of this nature would put Don Draper front and center…just what SCDP needs.

The other potentially lucrative ancillary benefit of winning this business is the power of connection and influence. Even before the account was in the door, Roger, Don and Pete were asking Ken to exploit his future father-in-law’s connection to a Cancer Society board member to help the agency land Dow Chemical. Nonprofits always stacked their boards with top level corporate executives who had the power to make big introductions and move business. The potential of these connections were explored and leveraged all the time on Madison Avenue and the partners at SCDP were well aware of it. Winning this one is very, very important.

A Scrappy Win

The dynamics of the agency’s win of the Topaz pantyhose account captured the reality that one never knows how, when and where a new business opportunity might arise. It was not uncommon to learn about a client’s dissatisfaction with their agency from third party suppliers. Faye’s introduction of Don to the Heinz client was one route to these connections. Other times it could emanate from the set of a TV production or photo shoot, a broadcast or magazine executive’s office, a print production person, etc. Clients often vented their frustration and expressed dissatisfactions in these environments and smart suppliers and agencies listened for these seeds of discontent. The Topaz client’s creative issues with the agency was compounded by the fact that media was already purchased and there was a hard, looming deadline for delivery of creative materials. A perfect opportunity for a scrappy and nimble agency to step in and save the day.

Peggy once again demonstrated her good instincts for the business and jumped on the Topaz opportunity. She immediately got theaccount team involved and urged Ken to make the call and set up a meeting. Peggy came armed with ideas and then created and adapted on the spot. “Topaz Pantyhose. The Only Pair You Will Ever Need. Bad For Business. Good For You”. She made a solid impression on the client and sealed the deal. While this account was relatively small in revenue, $250K, the emotional lift it provided was worth a lot more. Don was visibly enthusiastic when he congratulated Peggy and Ken an exclaimed “This is great news. We broke the streak!” Another example of SCDP’s younger, up and coming generation taking the lead at the agency.

The Office Vibes Reverberate

It was great to see Joan get her promotion and Lane’s promise that financial recognition would soon follow. His statement that the agency hadn’t landed any new business for 10 weeks was a good rationale but it
didn’t do much to assuage Joan’s disappointment. Recognition and promotion of staff that were there at the start of the agency was good business and helped build employee morale. And Joan will need all the help and support she can get as she deals with the newly engaged Megan and Don. There definitely will be some changes and challenges ahead for Joan, Megan, the partners, Peggy and the staff as this situation develops. If Megan remains at SCDP it is highly unlikely that she will stay in her $70 per week secretarial job. That reminded me again of how times have changed. Megan was earning $70 per week…my first job as a media assistant at Benton & Bowles in 1965 paid $100 per week. Life was sure simpler then.

“Tomorrowland” has left us with a glimpse into what the future holds for the Mad Men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Moving into next season, SCDP will be an agency that launched itself on to the Madison Avenue scene, survived some big hits and is reinventing itself yet again to be more in line with the emerging high profile, self promoting tone and manner of the industry. Bert made his exit, Roger moved to the sidelines and Don took up the mantle of visionary and leader. The next generation is stepping up into more important roles with Peggy, Pete and Ken ready to take charge.

As Don and his fellow Mad Men look ahead, perhaps they could draw on the wisdom of another well known philosopher of that time, Yogi Berra….”The future ain’t what it used to be.”

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