The new season of “Mad Men” premiered last night. As expected, there is fantastic attention to detail with respect to the apparel, office design, office politics, interpersonal relationships, political correctness (or lack thereof), and of course the competitive nature of the advertising agency business.
What is missing so far, and in all fairness it is really too early too say anything is missing, is the actual interaction between agency staff in the pursuit of a big idea. We saw Peggy Olson get shot down by a client for an “edgy” idea created to sell Heinz baked beans. The interesting comment that Don Draper made after the presentation debacle was, (and I’m paraphrasing here), “We got this business without any shoot out, it came in over the transom, and he’s got a right to make us work for it.”
This seemingly innocuous scene actually depicted what I believe to be a universal sentiment among many advertising clients, then and now. A physician can develop a reputation with his/her innovation, professional development and strong referrals from satisfied patients. Lawyers and accountants develop their professional reputations through demonstrating expertise in all things legal and accounting. They win the confidence of prospective new clients without needing to try a test case, or doing a test audit based on partial information. But for some reason, and perhaps due to the “Creative Revolution” of the late ’60s, our industry fostered the notion that advertising agencies should be tested, tried and selected on the strength of one idea.
“Mad Men” wouldn’t be more entertaining if it were to avoid this scenario. Actually, it would be boring. So I guess we will all live with the expectations that this stereotype fosters. And when we think that we will have better ideas than the competition, we will take our best shot.
Now, if you’re reading this, and you are a potential client, here’s a suggestion: go ahead, ask us to do speculative work. If your business is interesting, and you seem like honest people who will appreciate the gargantuan effort it takes to show up and present three ideas, a lot of great agencies will take a chance on you. But, when you finally choose, remember this: the agency that won your business probably began investing in your business many months ago. And, you should consider including some component of that time into your remuneration discussions. If you do, you will create a bond that will pay you back many times over the course of your relationship.
I doubt that “Mad Men” will spend too much time on subjects like these, but I believe that if they find ways to inject this kind of thinking into dialogue, then “Mad Men” will remain a very popular show with the “Mad Men” of then and now.
I fall somewhere in between.
About our “Original Mad Man,” CEO Tom Bolling
Tom’s passion for creating enduring and memorable brands has followed him for decades in the advertising world. Throughout his career, he’s received industry accolades marked by winning his share of ADDY, New York Festival, Telly and One Show awards.
By completely understanding his clients’ needs, Tom is able to communicate their image through marketing, advertising and brand management. He branded or rebranded IBM, Fisher-Price, Uniroyal, Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb, HSBC North America, Citibank Student Loans, Häagen-Dazs, Barrister Information Services, Comptek, Software Distribution Services and Ingram Software Distribution, among many others.