Season four of Mad Men is off to a great start with the birth of a new ad agency. Episode one, "Public Relations," provides a glimpse into some of the challenges and drama that were part of starting these new ventures in the Mad Men era. In looking at the show I have to remind myself that Mad Men is not a documentary about advertising in the ‘60s. It is, however, a wonderful period piece soap opera that brilliantly captures the essence and psyche of the advertising business back then. Mad Men is TV at its best so there is an expected degree of exaggeration, hyperbole, and caricature. While some of the situations depicted are a bit over the top, overall Mad Men captures the reality and raw emotions of the business that resonate with me. Here’s a look behind the scenes that will add some texture and context to what the folks at the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are going through.
Fire Us! Please
When Mad Men closed out season three, the key principals of Sterling Cooper decided to pick up, pack it up, and set up a new agency. Admittedly, the reality of such a move wasn’t as simple as Mad Men portrayed it — an abrupt walkout of the key players, moving a client on the spot, and an overnight clean-out of all the files. It took a lot more maneuvering, carefully choreographed discussions, managing 90-day client termination agreements, negotiating employment contract exits, etc. But, this definitely was the time for a liberated generation of Mad Men to rise up and shine, flex their creative muscles, and boldly declare their independence. The cult and culture of the creative personality emerged with a new look and a powerful passion.
Season four’s first episode captured the dynamics of this culture shift when it opened with Don’s botched interview with an Advertising Age reporter and closed with Don’s assertive Wall Street Journal redemption. (On the subject of the Ad Age interview, Rance Crain, one of the great business journalists and long time editor-in-chief of Ad Age wrote a nice piece on how these types of interviews were really conducted.)