Apr 222012

Article first published as Mad Men: Babes,Business, and Brawls on Blogcritics.

Things certainly took a turn to the worse at SCDP and office politics got very personal and a bit ugly. A dizzying amount of action is swirling around the agency, and virtually none of it is contributing to creating great advertising or moving the agency ahead. There are no new business wins to boost morale and revenue and SCDP seems to be stuck in neutral. When presented with the golden opportunity to land a prestigious car account without a pitch, the partners blow it. They manage to snatch defeat and divisiveness from the jaws of victory and harmony. These personal shortcomings and professional conflicts create an atmosphere of humiliation, loss of momentum, and a waning sense of purpose at SCDP.

I Can Get New Business Too

New business is the lifeblood of an agency and is governed by one simple ethos. You do whatever it takes to land the account. A point person is designated to lead the charge and the agency puts together a specially choreographed team that will “connect” with the prospect and deliver the best work. Those connections take many forms and sometimes can include a boys’ night out. Personal lives are put on hold, egos get checked at the door, values and ethics get challenged, all of which create a tension and urgency that permeate every phase of the pitch process. In well run agencies this takes shape as is a healthy tension that drives everyone to do their best and unites partners and key employees around a common cause. Unfortunately, at SCDP this tension is anything but healthy and threatens to tear the agency apart.

The Jaguar account is Lane’s big opportunity to make a contribution beyond operations and play in the game with Don, Roger, and Pete. Lane is naturally excited when he announces his contact and hot lead at the partner meeting. The partners are a bit surprised by it and everyone is supportive except Pete. Don suggests to Roger that Lane could use some advice. Still smarting from his diminished role, Roger declares himself “professor emeritus” of accounts and agrees to give Lane some pointers. Lane gladly accepts Roger’s suggestions on how to bond with the client and extract some valuable information for the pitch. He is eager to put them to work at dinner. When Lane’s dinner yields no substantive direction, the big boys decide to take over. Their suggestion that they meet with the client to soften him up so Lane can close the deal as a personal friend is met with some skepticism from Lane, but he agrees. Roger’s advice sums it up well. “Why would you want to hit a golf ball from the tee when you can hit it from the green.” Finally, some harmony and camaraderie seem possible among the partners

The Chewing Gum Did It

At dinner Don and the boys quickly find out that the prospective client is not interested in a business discussion, opening the door for Roger to take over and get the party rolling. Of course it all goes awry when the client’s wife finds out about it and forbids her husband to do business with SCDP. The night out backfired. Roger, Don, and Pete chalk it up to the facts of life of the business. Lane is devastated and angrily confronts the partners. Rather than trying to calm Lane down and be sympathetic, Pete uses the moment to question Lane’s manhood and his worth and value as a partner. The “barbaric” boardroom brawl that results rocks the office and leaves everyone stunned. Moreover, it leaves Lane having even bigger doubts about his role and value and Pete humiliated and diminished in the eyes of his partners and the staff.

Peggy tells Ken that “Lane beat the crap out of Pete,” Ken declares that “Lane beat him to it” and Joan assures Lane that “ Everyone in this office has wanted to do just that to Pete Campbell.” This is definitely not the leadership image and perception the partners want for the agency’s head of accounts. Pete has a big hole to dig himself out of.

Emotions run very high in ad agencies given the client demands, pressures of deadlines, and the push for creative work. Shouting matches, name calling, door slamming, and throwing of objects were not uncommon. In my decades of agency meetings I’ve had water poured on me, a calculator thrown at me, and been hit over the head with storyboards….all in the heat of the moment. We eventually got over it. I’ve seen a lot of crazy antics but never have witnessed a brawl like the one between Lane and Pete. It will be very difficult for Pete and Lane to put this behind them and for Pete to recover from it. While the partners may not have to agree on everything, the well being of SCDP depends on their being able to be in the same meeting without throwing punches. Ouch!

After Hours Pursuits

The meeting between Roger and Ken concerning Ken’s after hours activity as a fiction writer was interesting. Many of the people I knew in the business had weekend jobs, ocasional consulting engagements, freelance gigs, etc. While at B&B I played guitar in a band on the weekends ($30 a night). For most of my career I taught advertising at a number of universities. I always cleared my teaching with agency management since my position at the agency was part of my credentials, and I would often use work done at the agency in my lectures. Never once did I receive any push back and was always encouraged to do it. The cardinal rule is that you never let any outside activity seep into your daily work, get in the way of client or agency meetings, or be an excuse to not pull all-nighters or weekend work when needed. You simply made it all work

Roger’s concern that Ken’s writing would be a distraction from his work and dedication to SCDP comes off as hollow and shallow. Ken seems to be doing a great job and is one of the few level headed people that can be counted on at the agency. It’s likely that Pete pushed Roger to do it after the bonding dinner at his house where Ken was “outed.” Ken falls in line and agrees. Peggy knows about Ken’s passion for writing and feels very badly after he tells her that Ben Hargrove will write no more. Peggy and Ken have a genuinely close, respectful relationship, a rarity at SCDP.

Despite the closeness in their age and experience, the contrast between Ken’s and Pete’s demeanors, work ethic, and ability to get along with people is dramatic. Hopefully the partners realize they have a back up if Pete has a total meltdown.

Ken also shows that he has spirit and determination and starts a new writing life as Dave Algongquin. Take that Pete and Roger.

  2 Responses to “Mad Men: Babes.Business.Brawls.”

  1. If you aren’t current on the show, then this obisluvoy won’t match what is going on with the offices (not to spoil it but they have new offices).My guess is that the office stretches to the other side of the elevator bay (the time life building should have central elevators to maximize window space). Over there is probably where they keep all of their accountants, ad buyers, typists, records, etc.

  2. Thanks karin….yep new offices. It is a great building for views of NYC.

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