Agency Lessons from Mad Men Episode 309, “Wee Small Hours”

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.  This week’s episode, “Wee Small Hours,” was no exception. Two topics for this recap:

– Client Service; and

– Client Size.

Client Service

In episode 302, Peggy Olson said, “Clients don’t always know what’s best.” To which Ken Cosgrove responded, “When we land them you can start talking to them that way.”  Well Ken, that sounds good in theory, but it’s not apparently how things go at Sterling Cooper.  Sal Romano is now a commercial director as Don Draper said he was.  Sal is shooting a commercial for Lucky Strike, one of Sterling Cooper’s biggest clients (this is important later).  The client lead, Lee Garner Jr., tells Sal he doesn’t like the shot the way Sal is doing it. Sal protests, but the account team encourages Sal to just do the shot the way the client says to. The final commercial won’t be as good the way the client asks for (and yes, given the actions that follow this scene, Garner was merely trying to establish dominance over Romano). My recommendation in this case is to shoot it the way the client wants, then be sure to get the shot you want as well, so you have it later.

This theme of customer service comes up again with Hilton. Conrad Hilton continues to confound Don Draper with his requests and Don is taking it out on his creative team.  During a late night session, apparently fueled by moonshine, Hilton explains he wants to be on the moon.  Don apparently thinks Hilton is speaking metaphorically.  Wrong. If your client is literal, you need to know this. Sometimes you have to create work to appease them, along with the great work. Most clients will see your great work and realize they should go with it as opposed to their idea, but they HAVE to see their idea.

Client Size

After the client, Lee Garner, Jr., comes on to Sal in a locked editing room, and is rebuffed, he demands that Sal is taken off the account and fired.  Roger Sterling of course has no problem with this and fires him. When Sal goes to Don and starts to explain the situation, two things happen:

1) Don says that “Lucky Strike could turn our lights off.” This means they are such a big part of the revenue at Sterling Cooper that if they went away the agency could be destroyed.  Bad place to be in.  If possible you don’t want any single client to be more than 20% of revenue.  Not always possible, but good metric to shoot for, so you don’t have a client that owns you.

2) This isn’t related to client size, but it’s important to the scene.  Don asks Sal what happened. Granted he doesn’t do it kindly, but he asks.  Sal doesn’t lead with what really happened. After pushing from Don he gets there.  Remember, Don is the only one in the agency that knows, for sure, that Sal is gay.  When Sal finally tells the truth, Don tells him he’s fired and then says that he doesn’t understand, “you people.”  My point here is that you need to tell the truth at work. Sal didn’t have to lie to Don is this situation. He did though, and I think that is what made Don really angry.

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