May 032012

Article first published as Mad Men: Ups, Downs, and Disappointments on Blogcritics

Don And Megan Team Up. Award Letdown.

This week’s Mad Men episode takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions and disappointments. The continuing saga of the Heinz account drives much of the business action in this episode. It provides an interesting look into the genesis of the idea that saves the account, the importance of building client relationships, and how a little luck and female bonding can go a long way. The other dynamic that plays out strongly is the American Cancer Society and its potential to generate new business leads for the agency. Don receives an award from the American Cancer Society for his “bold and courageous” Lucky Strike NY Times manifesto ad. Roger accompanies Don and his family to the gala, where he is eager to leverage Don’s award and prospect for new business. Don finds out that getting an award isn’t all that it’s supposed to be and Roger receives an unexpected award of his own.

Megan Has An Idea

While the creative team is working away on Heinz, Megan lets Don know about her idea for a new Heinz campaign. The idea is sparked by Megan’s recent experience preparing dinner for Sally and how it conjures up memories with her own mother. Megan develops the idea and brings it to life across generations and into the future as a way to demonstrate that Heinz beans are an essential and emotional part of family life. Don sees the potential, embraces the campaign and offers some tag line suggestions. Megan is new at this and is feeling her way gingerly with Don, but insists that she still likes her original tag line, “Some Things Never Change”. The reason that this idea resonates is that it is grounded in emotional truth and uses the power of story. These were ingredients for great ad campaigns in the ‘60s and they are even more relevant in today’s digital, social media world.

Don tells Ginsberg and Stan to put aside their campaign and that the agency will take Megan’s big idea to the meeting. The team is upset and they complain to Peggy about it, but they reluctantly admit that Megan’s is a better campaign than theirs. Peggy’s reaction is just the opposite. Rather than being resentful and threatened that Megan solved a problem that she could not, Peggy is genuinely happy for Megan. Peggy sees Megan’s victory as reminder of the thrills and trials that she went though at the beginning of her copywriting career. Peggy reinforces her support at the agency’s champagne celebration. She encourages Megan to enjoy the thrill of victory when it happens because “This is as good as it gets in advertising”. The power of female bonding is alive and well at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

A Dinner Saves The Day

Don, Megan, Ken, the Heinz client and his wife have what seems like an uncomfortable dinner at the Tower Suite in the Time-Life building. The agency is scheduled to present new creative work the next day and this dinner is designed to help ease the tensions of prior meetings. Don and Ken sense that something is wrong when the client passes on after dinner entertainment and they learn the client was in town a few days before.  Alarm bells start to ring in Don’s mind but it is Megan who gets the message in the ladies room. The client’s wife tells Megan that “I hope we can still be friends” and she picks up on its implications immediately. Megan discretely whispers to Don that the agency is being fired.

Megan and Don jump into action and pair up to present the new campaign idea right then and there. They charm the client and his wife with the story of how the idea came about and sell it with warmth and smiles. The client likes the idea and, perhaps more importantly, the client’s wife really loves it. Ken is a little slow to pick up on what is happening but he eventually gets in the flow and suggests they go downstairs and see the work. Voila!. Sold. That’s a dessert they will savor for quite some time

The Tower Suite at the Time-Life Building was the perfect setting for this dinner. SCDP has its offices there and the Tower Suite has an air of exclusivity, specialness and views that would impress any client. In the afternoon the same space was open as a private luncheon venue called The Hemisphere Club.  I was entertained there day and night by folks from Time Inc. and was convinced to recommend some great Time Inc. magazine buys over wonderful dinners and great company. Time Inc. was the best there was at entertaining, selling and delivering great print programs. In 1972 I joined DKG advertising as a partner and experienced business life in the Time-Life building every day. Our offices were on the 28th floor of the Time-Life Building. It was an impressive place to come to work every day and we used the clubs and facilities extensively for business and client entertainment. It was a magical time. Seeing this episode made me feel like I was right there at the table with all of them.

Awards 1, Opportunities 0

Agency CEOs and top management spend a great deal of time attending fund raising events and awards dinners. An obligatory part of the business. Sometimes we are asked to be on Boards of NGOs and to provide pro bono communications services. Very often this participation is at the request of clients who also serve on those Boards. Regardless of the circumstances these alliances usually work out well for everyone. Agency execs can provide very solid business advice, be a creative resource if needed and have a visible platfrom for their agency’s creative work. Sometimes it can also open doors to corporate executive suites. While Don is new to this, Roger is an experienced hand at working these opportunities. He describes it as “being lowered in a bucket into a gold mine.”  While this is definitely an opportunity for SCDP, most agency execs will admit that a new business windfall is far from a sure bet.

Top executives for Dow Corning, GM and other major corporations are in attendance and Roger is busy collecting their business cards. Don, on the other hand is forced to swallow a dose of reality. He is visibly devasted when he is told that the very letter that is the impetus for his award also generates a “bite the hand that feeds you” distrust and dislike among the board members. No one on the board wants to work with Don or SCDP because of it. While all of this was going on Roger was receiving a special recognition award from Megan’s mother. He was not disappointed.

Ups. Downs. Disappointments. That’s advertising; some things never change.

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