Matthew Weiner, the creator of the popular TV series, Mad Men, spent over a decade trying to get the show produced. Even whilst he was working on HBO’s The Sopranos, another iconic show; his real passion was bouncing around Hollywood trying to find a network.
Luckily for millions of fans, AMC - a network with no experience with original scripted programming took a chance on Weiner’s 1960s-set Madison Avenue-based advertising agency, Sterling Cooper.
During the series, which wrapped up yesterday, the agency evolved into SCDP (Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce) and has gone from boutique to one of the largest in this fictionalised version of Manhattan.
Whilst Martini lunches, afternoon bourbon, chain smoking and sex in offices is frowned on these days; there's a lot Mad Men can teach digital and creative agencies.
Be Honest With Clients
Clients have lots of ideas. You have to deliver on those, turn them into reality and results. Don’t just say yes, sure we can do that, for the money. Before you say yes, look at what’s possible, back up your way of doing things with examples and data, and then incorporate the clients’ ideas into an actionable, workable plan.
“Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.”ROGER STERLING
Keep Earning Your Fee
Like a marriage, you have to keep working on the relationship to keep it strong. It can’t run on auto-pilot. Keep them in the loop. Touch base whenever necessary, not just when they ask for an update.
“The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.”ROGER STERLING
Deliver on Promises
Creative and agency director have to accept the fact that not everything goes to plan all the time, but you have enormous control over client deliverables.
When a client asks if they can expect y delivered on x date, you should be confident when you agree or know why it’s not possible and explain. Projects need clear timescales. These are your guidelines for how client expectations are managed. Missing one too many agreed deadlines will soon put the whole relationship in jeopardy.
“But it’s a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product that’s inside.”DON DRAPER
Don’t Focus on Mistakes
When you make a mistake, especially one you have to tell a client about, the best thing to do is own it. Accept it. Take a breath, evaluate what went wrong, and then move on. Spending time going over the gameplay will take focus away from assessing how to avoid repeating history.
“Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”DON DRAPER
Sell Your Value, Repeatedly
Peggy Olson started as a secretary for Don Draper in the pilot episode. It didn’t take long for her to get promoted, resulting in her being Head of Creative by season six. Her secret?
She created value. Campaigns and copy that impressed her clients and managers. Peggy was smart about using this to get ahead, which is how she got promoted, despite the male dominated workplace.
Chase Down Opportunity
Sometimes going above and beyond for a client means finding an opportunity and chasing it down. Account executive, Harry Crane asked Roger Sterling for a title bump to ‘Head of TV’ in season two, which Sterling gives him: “You are now head of the television department, which consists solely of you.”
Four seasons later, the TV department is a huge cash cow for SCDP. Crane made his own break, which is great way to score a win with clients.
Keep Your Skills Fresh
Don Draper starts out being cool, for the era - the early 1960s, which still had numerous social and cultural hangovers from the 50s. Before Kennedy (ironically, and over Drapers objection, his firm backed and worked for Richard Nixon's campaign). Before Vietnam was fought on television, before anti-war protests, psychedelic drugs and civil rights. The times changed, but Draper didn’t.
Don’t be that agency, stuck in its way, wondering whether to learn about Instagram, Vine or Vlogging. Move with the times: be known for innovation, not recycling old ideas.
Mad Men is quality television. It's a shame to see it end, but there’s dozens of lessons for creative and digital agencies we can take from the show.
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