The first episode of season four gave us a glimpse into the beginnings of a new advertising agency with a familiar cast of characters and a few new faces. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seems to be off to an acceptable but not spectacular debut. While starting a new ad agency might have been relatively easy, building a successful, enduring agency was far from a walk in the park. The need to do whatever it takes to keep the doors open while showcasing and enhancing the agency’s creative reputation was, and still is, the essential driving force in building an agency. Bert reminded everyone how fragile this can be when he announced that one client, Lucky Strike, accounted for 71% of the agency’s revenue. While it was not unusual for an ad agency’s fortunes to be in the hands of one, two, or perhaps three clients, this level of dominance was particularly troubling...and it was with a client that was coming under increased regulatory pressure.
Don's New Reality
The struggle to get new clients and the urgent need to keep the existing ones happy was very real and it put new pressures on everyone. Additionally, these high powered Mad Men were now operating in a radically different environment than Sterling Cooper. The agency was much smaller, with fewer resources, leaner expense accounts, a compacted hierarchy, and dependent on codependent relationships. Leadership, visible, talked about work, risk taking and creative reputation mattered more than ever. At a critical moment Don rose to the occasion. He decided to step up and step out by declaring himself the “voice” and personification of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don’s move created a new level of expectations by which he would be judged (by himself and others) and it set the stage for a whole net set of office dynamics and politics. Here’s how some of this played out in episode two.
A New Client With Some Strings Attached
There is a truism in the agency business. Clients hire agencies but the business is built on the relationships with the people that do the work and deliver the goods. Sometimes these people relationships become more important than the agency. When key people change jobs or strike out on their own clients occasionally will move with them. While this still happens today, it was more prevalent in the Mad Men days. The Freddy Rumsen/Ponds cold cream scenario that unfolded in this episode is revealing in a few ways. When Freddy dangled the two million dollar Ponds account in front of Roger Sterling he was welcomed back to the new agency as a reformed man. But, he had some very specific conditions. No Pete Campbell as the account person (payback time), he would be the creative front man, and he wanted to work with Peggy. Given the agency’s tight financial conditions, money trumped loyalty and creative control.