Agency Lessons from Mad Men Episode 305 “The Fog”

Duck Attempts to Poach Talent - Image from
Duck Attempts to Poach Talent - Image from

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 “The Fog,” did not disappoint.

Cutting costs:

Since Sterling Cooper was acquired by a UK-based advertising agency things have changed.  One of the things seems to be an increased focus on immediate profitability maximization.  I have a little experience with a similar acquisition so this recurring theme always hits close to home.  One of the “strategies” of many acquisitions is to increase short-term profitability by minimizing costs.  In this episode, Don Draper and Sal Romano are questioned in front of staff about their expenses, including a 38 cent taxi tip, on their trip to Baltimore to see client London Fog.  After abruptly leaving the meeting Don is confronted in his office by the representative from the UK office with the statement that,”Pennies make pounds and pounds make profits.”

Don responds with “You want to make money, start getting your nails dirty with Bert Cooper and Harry Crane….Think of the mens’ morale, not your own.”

The lesson here is that the real money in an agency is made with great work, not by cutting costs.  Much more can be made on a single quality ad buy than from cutting the entire office supply budget for a year.  Bonus points for a reference to Bridge on the River Kwai by the UK rep.  I’m not sure if this means that he now understands the concept of keeping employees happy or he is insinuating that Don has been seduced by his captors, the creative team, and won’t realize his madness until it’s too late.


“Duck” Phillips ,who we haven’t seen since the final episode of last season when he was unceremoniously removed from the acquisition deal he helped architect after his drinking got in the way of his judgment, made a reappearance in his new role at Grey Advertising and continued his demonstration of stellar judgment by attempting to poach Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson with a three-way lunch meeting.

The biggest mistake he makes is not knowing the people he attempting to poach. Campbell is angry that he would be lumped in with Peggy, not withstanding his own last liaisons with her.  His refusal to listen to Duck’s entreaties may be what made Peggy interested in the position and following the meeting she asks Draper for a raise which he refuses.

Poaching happens at all agencies.  At agencies with firmly established hierarchies sometimes the only way to move up in responsibility and salary might be to jump ship, and this means that people listen to most offers.  On a side note to this topic, a mentor of mine who was trying to offer me a job which I turned down before he even did it, gave me some advice, “Allow yourself to be recruited.”  Looks like Peggy might be following this advice, so when a valued employee comes to you to talk about salary, assume someone else already has. They are giving you a chance to keep them.

Client Recommendations:

Campbell is new role as co-head of accounts feels like he has been dumped with all of the less than stellar accounts. One of these is Admiral Televisions.  It turns out that Admiral sales are flat across the board with the exception of certain cities with large black populations.  Campbell notices this trend and brings a recommendation to the client that they divert a portion of their media buy to black-focused publications, such as Ebony and Jet.

The client is very unhappy with this recommendation and makes a complaint to the agency leadership who then dutifully administer what they refer to as a “flogging,” to Campbell.

What went wrong here?  Campbell is his desire to demonstrate how smart it was never thought to run his idea past the agency leadership who most likely would have known the situation.  Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred to anyone else before, and don’t assume that because it really is a great idea, that they want to hear it.

The following clip is brought to you by one of my film professors in college, Dr. Reinhart Lutz, with whom I was able to discuss this film in two different classes, “Major Filmmakers,” and “War Films.”


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