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Mad Men: “Man With A Plan”

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“Man With A Plan” picks up on the fast paced action of “For Immediate Release” by bringing the benefits and drawbacks of an agency merger into sharp focus. As I discussed in last week’s article, once the euphoria of winning Chevy and doubling the size of the agency fades, the harsh business realities of dealing with clients, managing egos, defining roles and trimming staff hit hard and fast.

This episode is rich with sharp character conflicts, turf battles, power struggles, and insecurities precipitated by the merger. Pete also has another very bad week both in and out of the office. His gin-drinking, dementia-afflicted mother is dumped in his lap just as Pete is fighting to carve out his place at the new Sterling, Copper, Draper, Pryce, Cutler, Gleason & Chaough. (The have to get the name thing sorted out soon.)

The morbid undertones of Mad Men continue to come through with Joan, Don and Frank Gleason coming to grips with their mortality. Don expresses his sadistic need for control by treating Sylvia like a sex slave and getting Ted smashed in the office so he can undermine his effectiveness and stature. Peggy quickly sees her worst fears about the merger happening as Don, the boss she ran away from, tries to undermine Ted, the new boss she ran to. The episode ends with a sobering reminder of the turbulent times with the tragic shooting of Robert Kennedy being broadcast on the news.

Uncertain Times Try Men’s Souls And Insecurities

Combining agencies after a merger creates a stressful, difficult,
uncertain working environment and the opening minutes of “Man With A Plan” vividly set the uncomfortable scenarios that result. CGC employees are moving into the larger SCDP offices requiring a great deal of give and take on both sides. As Peggy and Ted arrive at SCDP Joan is on the stairs directing a lineup of CGC employees waiting to get their assigned offices and reporting responsibilities. Ted is told his office isn’t ready and he handles it graciously. The creatives are told they will all be temporarily sharing an office and, as expected, grunt and grown about it. Peggy, the agency’s new copy chief, is assigned Harry’s old office. As Joan escorts Peggy to her office they share a nice “good to be back together again” moment. Hopefully we will see the relationship between these two strong Mad Men women grow into a positive force at the new agency. Once again Harry finds himself on the short end of the office pecking order. He laments his scaled down office with Pete and we’ll see if this new blow to his ego is enough to push Harry out the door.

The partners gather in the now over-crowded conference room for
their first status meeting and the clash of cultures and personalities is evident form the start. As usual, Don is fashionably late but this time the meeting starts without him. An insecure Pete realizes there isn’t an open seat at the table and sees it as a sign that he’s being squeezed out. He demands that Moira, Ted’s assistant give up her seat but instead Ted gives up his. Pete ungraciously sits down only to bicker with Jim Cutler about the lack of disclosure during the merger. Jim scolds Pete about the double loss of Vicks, an SCDP client and Clearasil, a CGC client. Pete shoots back with “Why didn’t you tell us that Frank Gleason was dying”. With those pleasantries out of the way, the partners get down to business with a discussion of clients and potential new business.

The first sticky point is a perceived conflict by SCDP’s Mohawk Airlines client and CGC’s New York State Thruway client. The partners agree that the “road travel vs. air travel” conflict is it a bit of a stretch but that it should be quickly addressed, particularly since the Thruway media money has already been allocated. Ted plans to fly Don and Pete up to meet with the CEO of Mohawk Airlines but Pete calls for the meeting to be cancelled so he can attend to his mother. Don and Ted fly up without Pete in the middle of a storm and the rough flight rattles Don. Pete is informed that the Mohawk conflict is resolved without him, further fueling his insecurities.

On a positive note, Bert Cooper reads a nice message about the merger and congratulates CGC for their recent Clio Gold win. Roger announces a potential new business pitch for Fleischmann’s Margarine. Ted thinks that’s all “groovy” (Don winces) and suggest they follow up with a creative brainstorming session.

A Rap Session About Margarine

One way to bring people together in a newly merged agency is to rally the troops around a new business pitch and have the creative teams collaborate to generate campaign ideas. It’s obvious that Don and Ted have different priorities and creative leadership styles. Don puts pleasure before work, manages from the top down and relishes being the creative hero. Ted is an all business, motivational cheerleader who encourages collaboration. These differences are brought into sharp focus as Ted seizes the opportunity to convene a creative brainstorming session on Fleischmann’s margarine.

Margarine was a major food segment in the mid- to late-’60s with a wide array of brands competing for share in a growing and competitive category. Fleischmann’s, an important brand owned at the time by Standard Brands, competed against household names such as Blue Bonnet, Imperial, Parkay and Chiffon. At the time Fleischmann’s was running ads touting the brand’s lower cholesterol health benefits with headlines like “Exercise and Fleischmann’s Margarine. One Good Turn Deserves Another.” A dramatic breakthrough campaign would be a strong packaged foods credential for the new agency. Don blows off the meeting to hop in the sack with Sylvia and Ted starts the meeting promptly suggesting they have “a little rap session about margarine in general.” (You could almost picture Don cynically cringing if he had been at the meeting.) When Don eventually shows up Ted ends the brainstorming session and chastises Don for being 40 minutes late.

In Ted’s office, Don brings an 86-proof peace offering of Canadian Club, pours drinks and suggests they discuss margarine by themselves….. just the way Don likes it. Ted admits, “It took him 40 minutes to find out that no one knows shit about margarine.” Don and Ted drink more and continue to discuss margarine, as Ted gets totally smashed. Don finally reveals his big idea and describes a bucolic morning farm scene with the wife preparing a kitchen breakfast table rich with pancakes, milk and Fleischmann’s margarine. A classic Don Draper sensual sell. Knowing that Ted is stinking drunk, Don suggests they return to the meeting to brief the teams and Ted passes out on the table. Don suggests they call it a day and, just like that, he levels the playing field. Peggy is seething.

Ted knows that he has his hands full with Don, and brings up his Don dilemma when he visits his CGC partner Frank Gleason in the hospital. He describes Don as “mysterious,” moody, and able to move easily from long periods of silence to eloquence. Frank advises Ted to give Don “the early rounds. He’ll tire himself out.” Ted soon gets some redemption and satisfaction when he pilots his the plane on their trip to Mohawk. Don hits the panic button during their turbulent ascent and realizes that Ted is in total control on this fight. Take that Don.

One From Column A, One From Column B

In order to make the merger work financially, management has to be streamlined, account groups consolidated, creative teams pared down based on their talent and importance to clients and duplicative back office administrative positions eliminated. Everyone at both agencies knows there will be redundancies so there is an unsettled, uneasiness at the office. After addressing client needs, the partners need to handle people management deftly with a mix of diplomacy, understanding and tough dismissal conversations. A little bit of all of this comes into play.

A somewhat cocky Burt Peterson remarks to Don the “the worm has turned” only to be once again fired by Roger. Roger elevates the art of firing Burt the second time to new levels of delight. After Roger somewhat gleefully tells Burt that he is being fired, an enraged Burt makes the expected account manager’s threat that his accounts will leave with him. Roger rebuffs that by telling Burt “nobody fought for you” and that Ken Cosgrove has already replaced him as the lead account person on Chevy. “He is touring the factory as we speak.” Roger then rejects Burt’s demand for a big severance and is ready to move on to his new role trading one-liners and barbs with Jim Cutler.

In a later meeting, Roger, Jim, Joan and Pete are dispassionately reviewing the final list of staff cuts and how many people each agency contributed to the redundancy list. In a wonderfully coy move Joan saves her newfound “friend” Bob Benson from the chopping block by reminding Roger and Jim that Bob is important to Ken on Chevy. In personnel moves of this nature, client service and satisfaction invariably take precedence over other factors and Joan works that beautifully with her partners. Bob lives to work another day and it will be interesting to see how far Joan takes the relationship and how Don and Roger react to it.

Move Forward

As always, Peggy steps in as the grown-up at the agency and puts Don in his place. The morning after Ted’s collapse at the brainstorming session, Peggy lets herself into Don’s office for a confidential meeting. She calls out Don for his rivalry with Ted and deliberately getting him drunk. She tells Don, “She was hoping that Ted would rub off on you, not other way around. He can’t drink like you. Nobody can.” True to form, Don sees this as a betrayal. Peggy hopes that she can get Don to stop clinging to his tired, outdated, destructive ways of working and change with the new agency. Peggy stands her ground and confidently tells Don to “move forward.”

Easier said than done.

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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.