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Mad Men: From the Dark Side to the Wild Side

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This week’s episode of Mad Men took us on a trip to the wild side. Coming on the heels of Pete Campbell’s meltdown we get to see Peggy struggle with self-doubt and the need to assert herself. Mind altering substances also share the spotlight and capture the environment of experimentation taking place on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s. It definitely was an adventurous time. On the business side, the critical role of creative leadership is explored through Don’s handling of the Heinz account with Peggy. Strong, involved creative leadership is a pivotal factor in the success or failure of an agency and it is clear that SCDP is lacking that right now. Don is backing away and shirking his responsibilities while Peggy is trying to step up and fill the vacuum. Neither is working out. 

Heinz Act II – High Anxiety

Despite a poor reception to the agency’s first shot at the Heinz creative, Peggy and the team worked hard on a new campaign. They
put the ill-fated “Bean Ballet” experience behind them and moved on. Peggy recognizes that they need to hit a home run with their next presentation to solidify the account. While not an ideal situation, second and even third attempts at campaigns are a fact of agency life. Thick skins and resilience are essential virtues in creative departments. It is also a time when the creative director has to step up, provide clear direction and inspire creative teams to do their best work. Even though Don is disengaged from the work, Peggy is rightfully counting on him to be in the meeting to help sell the new campaign. When Don announces that he will not be there, Peggy is knocked back on her heels. Despite reassurances from the team that this is a vote of confidence from Don, Peggy is flustered and anxious. Everyone knows that Don’s blowing off the meeting for an insignificant visit to a Howard Johnson facility is a big mistake. Even Megan realizes that this is a bad idea and knows that she should be there helping Peggy pull off a successful meeting.

What Would Don Do

With Don being MIA, Peggy decides to make this her moment to step up and take control of the creative leadership on Heinz. She very confidently presents a new campaign featuring the line “Home Is Where The Heinz Is”. This appears to be a well thought out campaign hitting all the copy points with a strong emotional appeal to moms. Unfortunately, the client views this as extraneous sentimentality and rejects the idea, along with a caustic query as to whether Don had signed off on the campaign. Peggy assures the client that Don loves the campaign and then does what every good creative person should do. She defends the work with passion and conviction. Unfortunately, she escalates the defense of the work into a confrontational critique of the client and asserts that the client really doesn’t know what he wants. While this is sometimes true, Peggy violates a cardinal rule in agency/client relationships.

One should never dress down a client in an open meeting. Those kinds of discussions are always best had one on one with the goal of having the client more clearly articulate concerns and expectations. It is also a time to revisit the creative brief to see if it needs adjustment. Peggy was trying to be Don and she made a mess of it. She realizes her mistake and feels terribly about it.

Asked Off The Business

It’s ironic that Pete’s big appearance in this episode is to let Peggy know that the client asked her off the account. That’s usually how it happens. Clients let the account people know and they deliver the bad news. Again, while this is not the norm, it sometimes happens and agency management has to deal with it decisively and deliberately. There simply is no choice. Make the adjustments or loose the business. Being able to establish rapport and build client relationships are essential to an agency’s success. 

I’ve encountered this situation on a number of occasions. On the agency side, I’ve had requests to replace account people on the business, demands that creative people never show up again and suggestions that our CFO was not welcome in fee discussion meetings. There are always bruised egos and agency management has to decide what to do with the persona non grata employees. Most of the time they stay at the agency and are reassigned to other accounts. Sometimes they have to be terminated. When I was a client running a division of Brown Forman, I was put in the uncomfortable position of asking our agency to remove a creative team from our business. The team never connected with great work and were often insulting and demeaning of our brand teams. It was an untenable situation. They were removed and subsequently fired from the agency. To this day I still feel badly about that.

It’s not likely that Peggy will be fired, but now she is not the lead creative on Mohawk or Heinz. She can’t be happy about that.

Bert Cooper’s simple yet profound admonition to Don brilliantly sums up the situation at SCDP. He tells Don that he has been on “Love Leave”. It’s clear to everyone that Don has to get back to being Don. Hopefully it will be clear to Don in the next episode.

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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.