Client service lessons from Mad Men Episode 302 “Love Among the Ruins”


Mad Men continues to include real issues faced by advertising (and yes PR firms) in an incredible show. If I wasn’t in this industry, I’m sure I would still be a fan of the show, but for me I get a bonus. I get to watch situations I encounter all the time dealt with by others. Tonight’s episode, “Love Among the Ruins,”  hit on several big marketing related themes:

– Client service

– Advertising vs. PR

– Agency acquisition

Client Service:

Peggy Olson – “Clients don’t always know what’s best.”

Ken Cosgrove – “When we land them you can start talking to them that way.”

I viewed this through the lens of prospective clients who come to us and say something along the lines of, “we want a blog.”  When you ask them why they might say because it worked for a competitor, or they’ve heard that’s what they need.  What they need to do is understand their customers and understand how to reach them.  Not everyone wants to hear that. Sometimes they just want what they’ve already seen.

Advertising vs. PR:

Don Draper in talking to the prospective client from Madison Square Garden about addressing the concerns of what is termed a “vocal minority,” opposed to tearing down Penn Station to build the new arena.

Don Draper – “Your concern over public opinion shows a guilty conscience…PR people understand this but can never execute it, if you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.”

Theoretically this might have been true at some time. But it’s definitely not now. The “vocal minority,” or “lunatic fringe,” as one of my clients long ago so warmly described them can now amplify their voice to a level that may belie their actual numbers. Ignore them at your peril. Don’t try and put one over on them by changing the conversation.  Actually the right way to deal with the situation is brought up by Draper later in the episode while discussing a family matter, he says, “I am going to let you go out there and tell your sister that this is what you want and we’ll pretend you did the right thing on your own.”  Work with antagonists to help them understand the situation and why you feel the way you do. Advertising, too often tries to do it with muscle and sleight of hand, in PR we’d rather do it with finesse and participation.

One of the big ironies of the above is the above demolition of Penn Station led to the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, an action that a good PR counselor might have advised beforehand.

Agency Acquisition:

After winning the account, Don Draper is instructed by his new UK overlords that he must turn down the business because, “there is conflict.” After pushing he learns that the UK office doesn’t see the immediate benefit of serving a client that may not immediately provide huge revenue. Never mind the prestige of working on the account, or the potential for growth, all they care about is the immediate bottom line. Below is the end of the exchange between Draper and the local exec from the UK.

“Why the hell did you buy us in the first place?”
I don’t know.

I’ve been part of agency acquisitions and have seen several from the outside.  Believe me, that exchange may have been the most real-life one ever on this show.

Note – the above situations, and my analysis, are obviously simplified but definitely provide great starting points for discussions about agency life and client service.


2 thoughts on “Client service lessons from Mad Men Episode 302 “Love Among the Ruins”

  1. I loved this episode and I haven’t seen the first 2 seasons yet. I had some of those same thoughts going through my head when Don Draper said them. The part of changing the conversation was classic.

    At least he was listening to see what the conversation had to say. I think we can all learn from listening. Too bad they made him give up the account.

    The imagery was great and the silences were great too.

  2. Hey Josh,

    If this PR thing doesn’t pan out, you can get hired as a TV critic. I’m probably as big a fan of Mad Men as you are and loved your take on it. It’s one of those shows that when I watch it, I find myself saying, “God, I love this show” about a half-dozen times.

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