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Mad Men 1964: A Magnificent Year

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SCDP celebrated its first Christmas with a mix of holiday cheer and consternation. A veteran creative returned with a new client attached, business was okay but not great, finances were tight, and the agency’s marquee talent, Don Draper, was struggling with self-doubt and drinking a bit too much, even for Don. Everyone was looking forward to the start of a new year, some big creative home runs, and an influx of new business.

But first, there was that week between Christmas and the New Year. In the agency business this particular week has always been a little awkward. The big holiday push was over, most clients took a long Christmas break, and the staff was ready to wind the year down. Unless the agency had an active retail account that needed servicing and attention, the office virtually closed down with a limited number of staffers to handle the phones and any client emergencies. (We all left our contact information and hoped we didn’t get that client call.) So, in that last week of 1964 at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, it wasn’t surprising that a lot more happened outside the office than inside the agency. But there was still a little agency drama and office politics to make it interesting.

An LA State Of Mind

The episode opened with Harry Crane, head of TV programming, asking Don to meet with a TV executive at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles (Don was headed off to Acapulco for some R&R with a very important stop in LA to see Anna and get more depressing news.) Lane joined the conversation and made a remark about Harry’s “fiddling about” in Los Angeles…a not so subtle reference to his West Coast expense accounts. Back then, trips to LA were viewed as one of the perks of the job.

In the 1960s the major agencies were expanding with branch offices and just about all of them had an outpost in LA. Initially these offices were set up as satellites to handle the production of television commercials, work with independent commercial production companies and directors, and liaise with the studios and television network executives. In addition to the agency’s TV programming executives jetting out to LA, the creative teams and account people welcomed the decision to produce the next TV campaign on the “coast.” This usually meant that the creative team, agency producer, and the account person (and sometimes the client) would spend a week in LA overseeing the production. It involved, casting, pre-production, shooting, editing, and, of course, nights on the town. A welcomed week out of the office with most of the expense built into the production estimate and the rest covered by the agency’s 17.65% mark-up on outside production costs.

The account person was usually there to hold the client’s hand, keep the expenses under control, and help mediate any disputes that would arise. My first LA production was for a four-day shoot of Benton & Bowles’ legendary Mr. Whipple campaign for Charmin toilet tissue (see my earlier article for more about that). While I didn’t do that much, I can still remember it vividly. Even today when I visit a Concept Farm production I am always impressed with how much time, talent, and attention to detail goes into  shooting and finishing these thirty second spots.

Male Bonding, Mad Men Style

The last day of SDCP’s first year also saw the beginning of an understanding between two agency adversaries…the free-wheeling, big spending, living large Don Draper and the cautious, fiscally conservative, live-within-your-means Lane Pryce. There was a natural tension between creative directors and finance. Creative directors wanted to hire the best (and most expensive) creative teams available, they ran their departments with a more casual attitude about policies and procedures and did their best to foster an atmosphere of creative freedom. Also, the creative department payroll is most critical and usually the largest in the agency so it came under the most scrutiny. Naturally, Lane was always looking over Don’s shoulder.

When Don and Lane found themselves to be the only two people in the office on New Year’s eve, they put aside their differences and were brought together by their lonliness and need for some familiar, albeit awkward, companionship. Perhaps the pivotal moment in establishing this connection came when Lane let his guard down and made this comment to Don: “Not withstanding that we are still in a precarious  situation financially, it has been a magnificent year.” A recognition that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had made a bold move, overcame some difficult circumstances, and indeed had a lot to be proud of.  It will be interesting to see if this newly formed bond between Don and Lane survives the day-to-day pressures of the business and if it bodes well for the new agency.

SDCP’s first meeting of the new year started with the key players assembling in the agency’s conference room. Joan very calmly asked…”Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?”

Happy New Year?

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About Hank Wasiak

Hank Wasiak is a communications industry leader and partner at the creative hot shop, The Concept Farm. Hank began his advertising career in 1965 as a real Mad Man at Benton & Bowles. He is a best selling author, teacher, motivational speaker and three time Emmy award winning television host. Hank and Dr. Kathy Cramer created a best selling business - self help book series based on Asset-Based Thinking published by Running Press. Hank also is an Adjunct Professor at USC's Marshall School Of Business.