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Mad Men: Don And Peggy Find Their Sweet Spot

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Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is a mosaic in motion. Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove are back together again. Pete is protecting his turf. Roger is feeling a bit irrelevant and drifting off into a memoir fantasy. Don is spiraling down an endless glass of Canadian Club and being erratic as ever. Peggy is growing up and growing into her creative supervisor role. A wonderful Mad Men cocktail of possibilities.

The Pressure To Develop A Campaign

Don put on a full court press to get a big idea for Samsonite. This kind of pressure and the resultant angst it generated within the agency was accepted as a regular part of the business. There was always an account in trouble, clients rethinking their business, and key people feeling neglected. I remember a great saying back then: “The daily agency 15% rule of thumb —15% commission, 15% client attrition, 15% employee dissatisfaction, and 15% exaggeration.” This dynamic was the nature of the business and could bring out the best and worst in people.

Usually there were lead creative teams assigned to accounts and they did most of the work on a client’s business. When they got stuck or the client demanded more work, creative directors pulled out all the stops to get it done. Watching Don’s reaction to the creative team’s acting out a Samsonite commercial built around football quarterback Joe Namath was fun to watch. It also struck a responsive chord. A creative director I worked with at Benton & Bowles, Dick Anderson, always rejected celebrity endorsements. He used to say that creative teams would present celebrity campaigns when they couldn’t come up with an idea. Don echoed that sentiment. “Endorsements are lazy,” he said and sent the creative teams back to develop better executions around the “toughness” concept.

Whose Idea Is It Anyway?

Creative exploratories always meant late nights, canceled plans, stress, frayed nerves, and, sometimes, resentment. All of these dynamics came crashing down on Don and Peggy with the Samsonite campaign. Don canceled his “fight night” plans with Roger and Peggy backed out of her birthday dinner. These intense situations often brought personal and professional issues to the surface. On the professional side, Don reminded Peggy that coming up with great campaigns was her job, even if it took all night. “I gave you more responsibility, and you didn’t do anything. We’re gonna do this right now.”

Don also let Peggy know that creative department ideas were the agency’s, not hers or anyone else’s. As Don said, “There are no credits on commercials.” Still bristling from Don’s lack of recognition for her role in the Glo-Coat campaign, Peggy responded, “Yeah, but you got the Clio.” After Peggy had a bit of a meltdown, she stood up to the pressure and let Don know that recognition and appreciation were as important as compensation. This pressure to perform, the blurring of responsibilities, disputes about “whose idea was it?” and the bestowing of recognition were, and still are, the daily fare at ad agencies. The morale and performance of the agency was dependent on getting the right balance.

Some Perks To Ease The Stress

The scene in the office with Harry doling out tickets to “the boys” for the closed circuit viewing of the Ali/Liston fight brought back memories of some great perks. Back in the Mad Men days there was a constant flow of tickets to sporting events, concerts, Broadway theater, screenings and special events. They came from all directions: the networks, local radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines, and outdoor companies. The tickets were usually accompanied by a private cocktail party, dinner, and special treatment at the event. Sometimes these invitations would stretch into more elaborate trips.

Time, Inc., riding high on the popularity of its big titles like Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated, was well known for some of the best. I can still remember my trips to the Kentucky Derby. It was almost always the media guys that were the gatekeepers for these tickets and there definitely was a priority attached to their allocation — first to the account teams with clients in attendance, next to agency top management, and then the media guys paying back favors. The leftovers went to whomever begged the best and I was pretty good at it. It was also good to see that the boys from SCDP were headed to The Palm for a steak dinner before the fight, a great ritual at one of the famed advertising hangouts of that era.

Peggy and Don have opened up, cleared the air, and made a connection. Where it goes personally remains to be seen. Professionally, Don has reaffirmed his belief in Peggy and she has recommitted to Don. The lines between the mentor and the mentored are about to blur.

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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.
  • RTA

    Thanks for the great “color commentary” on the show AND the times. As someone whose always felt connected to advertising (I grew up on TV in the 70s & 80s and counted the shows and their ads as family and friends) I enjoy reading stories of how my “friends” were created and of those who created them. And as I am working on making my mark (albeit a very small one) in the advertising world, I wonder what your thoughts are on what is perceived as a “changing” of the world of advertising? You’ve been witness to a fair amount of “change” in this areana and I would like to ask if you feel this latest change is a true, fundemental change in the world of advertising or is it just a change in the way it’s delivered? Meaning, is there something at the heart of all good advertising regardless of the era it’s produced? Could you see Don being able to survive and thrive in 2010 if he were magically transported from 1965? Would his skills still be able to make their mark once he caught up to speed on the various outlets and media marketing now must use?

    I look forward to your answer and more from your blog. All the best!

    -Richard Todd Aguayo
    creative conspirator, razorsharp creative

  • Hi Richard. Thanks for your comments and great questions. Yes I do believe that the ad biz is in the midst of fundamental systemic change… exciting and positive yet challenging. I’ve written about this on mashable and spoken about it at the 140conference (video link).
    Take a look. Let me know what you think. And, Don would not like what he sees today…. but if he stops drinking he might be able to take off his hat and adapt.

    Thanks again for reading the article and the comments. Be well.

    Hank Wasiak