Episode 11 of Mad Men delivers intense emotions and bares the souls of the partners. Of all the episodes to date, this one touches more emotional chords than any other. Don’s rollercoaster ride with Peggy takes him from being an inconsiderate, nasty boss to feeling an odd mix of betrayal, loss and affectionate pride in her decision to leave SCDP. Don’s emotional journey with Joan moves from standing by her as a kind and considerate friend to discovering that his partners secretly undermine his good intentions and efforts by convincing her to prostitute herself for the agency. While Don is disappointed and devastated, these are watershed moments for Peggy and Joan. Both women assert their strength, resolve and determination to move onward, outward and upward. Pete reveals just how far and low he is willing to go for the recognition and glory of a big new business win and he enlists the partners in his seedy plans. In the meantime Lane’s agony and angst continue as a precursor to what is sure to be a gut wrenching reckoning.
The Ethos Of New Business
The Jaguar account is a big prize on Madison Avenue and an even bigger necessity for SDCP. Don’s rallying cry in episode 10 captures the importance of this win. “Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car account. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we’ve arrived.” Don also sees this as his opportunity to reaffirm his creative “chops” by winning the business the way he believes it should be won…..on the strength and presentation of the agency’s creative product. Unfortunately, this ideal scenario does not play out the way Don envisions it.
New business is an enlightening lens through which to view the essence of the advertising business, the inner workings of an agency and the character of its principals. Of course the strength of the creative work is always a primary driver of success or failure. Very often other factors such as personal relationships, politics, economics and luck emerge as important elements in the mix.
How an agency reacts to and balances this complex and dynamic mix dictates the outcome. SCDP’s Jaguar saga has it all…schmoozing the decision makers, providing private “incentives”, down to the wire creative worksessions, pulling a brilliant line out of the hat at the eleventh hour and delivering a riveting emotional presentation. Ginsberg transforms an off target and tasteless representation of Jaguar as a mistress into a positioning of the car as an attainable trophy of beauty and class. “At last, something beautiful you can truly own.” Don’s positive response is immediate and he internalizes its meaning and power to deliver a mesmerizing presentation to the client. Another Kodak moment for Don and everyone in the room believes and is committed. The juxtaposition of Don’s conference room campaign presentation with Joan’s hotel room “presentation” of herself to the client is brilliantly executed.
New business is intense and totally unpredictable. The pursuit and process can be simultaneously exhilarating, thrilling, rewarding as well as deflating, frustrating and disappointing. Winning is a huge energizing rush. Loosing is a personally crushing downer. The Jaguar pitch captures this “love-hate” dynamic very well and reminds me of why I continue to be energized by the process. Win or loose, Mad Men can’t wait for their next new business pitch.
The Ethics Of New Business
A “We’ll do anything it takes to win” attitude is essential to new business success and it is just as important to define the boundaries of “anything”. While the overwhelming majority of new business pitches are above board and honest, challenges to ethical good business practices sometimes occur.
The challenges can come from within the agency itself, be induced by pressures from competitive agencies or be direct requests from the client. I’ve probably been involved in a hundred new business pitches on both the client and agency sides of the fence. There isn’t much I haven’t seen and done and there are some things I wish I’d done differently. The “boundary stretchers” I’ve encountered included placing freelance spies at other agencies in the pitch, pressuring printers for copies of competitive agency ideas, demands for kickbacks, funding personal use travel funds and apartments, facilitating entertaining nights on the town, requests to hire a relative or friend of the client and more.
The demand made by Herb Rennet, head of the Dealers Association and a critical vote on the selection committee, is a whopper. His blatant request for an arranged “evening together” with Joan pushes these boundaries beyond reason since it demeans and debases a key employee of the agency. It is quintessential Mad Men drama that forces a collision of partner principles, personal dignity and business realities. Pete sees this as part of the busiiness and has no problem putting the proposition to Joan. It’s ironic of course that at this critical moment it is Don who draws the line. He sets the moral compass of the agency only to have it disregarded by everyone else involved. While SCDP has won a defining account the agency may have lost something more important to its future…..its soul.
Lane Helps Joan And Himself
Despite Don’s emphatic veto, the partners reach a desperate new low point when they agree to offer to Joan a “finders fee” of $50,000 as incentive for her to add a new dimension to Jaguar “client service”. The crude manner in which Pete delivers the proposition is even more appalling. From Lane’s perspective, the prospect of dipping further into the company’s operating cash is alarming. Lane approaches Joan with advice about her options with the need to avoid exposing his own financial indiscretions clearly on his mind. Fortunately there is a positive convergence of interests and Lane makes a compelling case based on his past personal experiences. First, he assures Joan that she does not have to prostitute herself, but, if she decides to accommodate the client, Lane suggests there is a much bigger price to be extracted than $50,000. Lane confesses that three years ago when he was the critical linchpin for the future of the agency he didn’t reach high enough and agreed to much less that he felt he was worth and needed to secure his future. He advises Jane not to make the same mistake and suggests that she secure her future by demanding a five percent partnership interest in the agency and a more active voice in managing the company. It’s great advice for Joan as well as a cash flow reprieve for Lane. Joan succumbs to the temptation, the partners accept her demands and Don is sorely disappointed.
Peggy Leads And Leaves
Peggy’s decision to leave SCDP, and Don’s reaction, played out powerfully in this episode. For me, these are truly is the most emotionally charged moments of season five. Peggy’s frustration with her role at the agency and increasingly confrontational relationship with Don has been simmering for months. It finally boils over in the heat of SCDP’s pursuit of the Jaguar account. Lately, Peggy is impressing everyone, except Don, with her creative talent and leadership. She had Roger’s back on Mohawk but is excluded from the participating in SCDP’s game changing Jaguar pitch. Now, while Ginsberg is engaged on Jaguar, Peggy is again called in on Chevalier Blanc to convince the client not to pull the Hard Day’s Night ad. Cancelling the ad will mean an immediate loss of income for SCDP and Peggy saves the day, Draper style. On the spot she comes up with a new twist on the ad to target women that the client loves. When Harry sings her praises, Don rewards Peggy with snide remarks about a trip to Paris and throwing money in her face. This is the demeaning and demotivating last straw that convinces Peggy that it’s time to move on.
The agency business is essentially a people business. SCDP is an idea factory whose assets and inventory get on the elevator every morning and leave to go home in the evening. The relationships and bonds that people form and management’s role in fostering and respecting these relationships differentiate the great agencies from the rest. The relationship dynamics are the deepest and most complex in the creative department. Creative talent requires constant TLC and nurturing.
In Don’s pivotal role as creative director he is constantly moving from mentor and motivator to taskmaster and critic. Having a trusted second in command by his side is critical and Peggy diligently fills that role. Energized by Freddie Rumsen’s encouragement and contacts, Peggy engineers her exit with confident resolve. A Copy Chief job at hot agency at $19,000 is a big score in 1966.
As the agency celebrates the Jaguar win, Peggy gathers herself and tells Don that she’s accepted a job with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. At first Don brushes it off as Peggy’s way of asking for a raise. When he realizes she is serious Don offers to match the money. Peggy confidently tells Don it’s not about the money and the realization that Peggy is really moving on hits both of them very hard. Don’s not letting go of Peggy’s hand and her struggle to hold back the tears is genuine and deeply moving. We watch it happen. This amazingly intense and complex relationship that has powered Mad Men and was embedded in virtually everything that happened at SCDP has ended. It’s hard to imagine what’s next.