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Mad Men: Babes, Business, and Brawls

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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!

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.