Mad Men and the real world of running an advertising/PR agency

I’ve written before about “Mad Men” on AMC which depicts the story of Don Draper, creative director at fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper in the early 60’s. This week’s episode, Flight 1, was the second of the second season.

“Flight 1” refers to an American Airlines flight that crashed on the same day as John Glenn’s ticker tape parade in Manhattan. The account team at Sterling Cooper learns that American Airlines may be looking for a new agency to re-instill trust after the crash. Great news for an agency. Big brand, probably big dollars. Big challenge. One problem, they already have an airline as a client, Mohawk, a regional airline with plans to grow.

Against the wishes of Draper, the decision is made to drop Mohawk as a client with the chance to go after the bigger, more prestigious American account. Below is the synopsis from AMC:

Roger (Sterling, partner at Sterling Cooper) orders Don to find “a quiet place, but public” to notify Henry Wofford at Mohawk that the agency is dropping the account. When Don asks what kind of company Sterling Cooper is going to be, Roger comes back with, “The kind where everyone has a summer house?”

Dropping Mohawk “wasn’t my decision,” Don tells Henry at a Japanese restaurant. Henry reminds Don of his pitch that Mohawk and Sterling Cooper would grow big together. “I’m almost embarrassed to say this,” Henry adds as he gets up. “You fooled me.”

One in the hand versus two in the bush. Dance with the one that brung ya. Loyalty. All ways to describe what should have happened. They didn’t. Sterling Cooper chose to turn their back on their promise to a client, and on the opportunity to help build a brand.

We run into these challenges from time to time at Morgan/Dorado, not on the scale of American Airlines, but fairly regularly, a company comes to us and asks if we would be interested in working with them or pitching their business. If we have a conflict with a current client, the answer is “Thank you, but we can’t. We made a commitment to XYZ client.”

It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do, and you’ve got to dance with one that brung ya. I’ve got to think this move is going to come back and bite Sterling Cooper. Let’s let them take the lumps and do the right thing when someone dangles something new and shiny in front of us.


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