Agency Lessons from Mad Men Episode 313, “Shut the door. Have a seat.”

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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, “Shut the door. Have a seat,” was the season finale and with this post I’ve now put together an agency recap for every episode this season. You can read the agency lessons from the other episodes from season three here.

The big professional moment in this episode was without a doubt the decision for Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce to start their own firm. This brought up all kinds of issues we need to address.  Going to try and cover a few of the big ones here:

  • Where do your loyalties lie?;
  • Taking clients with you;
  • Taking materials with you; and
  • Taking people with you

Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

A few posts ago I mentioned that once the “name partners,” have sold out of a firm, things change. It’s not personal any more. Their name isn’t on the door and they don’t have final say. In most cases, when a firm has been bought by a large holding company, even if the names stay on the door the decisions are made in New York, Los Angeles or London and there’s little room for emotion. Profit is important for all businesses, but with a holding company it’s all there is.

Your loyalties lie with your team. The people you work directly with.  That’s what Don, Roger, Bert and Lane learned in this episode.  They’ve built a new team, or as was so brilliantly said by Joliet Jake in “The Blues Brothers,” “We’re getting the band back together!”

Taking Clients With You

Do you or don’t you take clients with you when you go?  I’ve written before about being careful about burning bridges, and believe me taking clients with you is more than burning a bridge it’s burning the fleet of ships that might be able to take you back home.  When I left a large firm to start my own I chose to not take any clients with me. That was my choice. The firm had been very fair to me and I was leaving on good terms. My decision to leave on good terms has led to my former employer being a very good source of business for me.  If I had walked out the door with one of their clients, I think that my net financial gain from that client would have been less than I have gained in billings through or as a result of referrals from my former employer.

Now, if the parting is acrimonious, I recommend taking the high road, but by no means roll over and play dead. Now, I’m going to use another cliche’ and giving you fair warning that it’s from Cannonball Run, “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” What the heck does that mean? It means if you are going to play, play to win.  What does it not mean?


When I started at my first agency job as an intern, I was helping out one of the VPs and noticed he had two identical Rolodexes on his desk (for you kids out there – these were desktop filing systems for business cards, think of an analog LinkedIn).  When I asked him why he ad two, he explained that one belonged to the agency and one belonged to him.  If he ever left, he would take his and leave the agency’s. Both were identical, and had the same information in them, but that way he wouldn’t be taking agency property if he left.

In this week’s episode there was a free for all as CSDP and their new colleagues ransacked the Sterling Cooper offices for client information to take with them.  I would definitely recommend against that. But, if you have personal notes, those are yours.  One thing I always do is buy my own notebooks.  I use hard bound notebooks and have all of them going back to about 1999.  So my advice is keep your notebooks, but let your former employer keep the art, if you want to stay out of jail at least.

Taking People With You

When looking at who to take with you, its important to evaluate how people will function in the new company, not how successful they have been in the old one. Don realized this by going to Pete Campbell as opposed to Ken Cosgrove, and by realizing that he needed Roger, and for more than the “golden porkchop,”that he envisions hanging around his neck.  Also, starting a company is one of few times when you really get to choose the people with whom you work. Choose wisely.  As we saw late in the episode when Pete and Peggy were sharing a desk and Don was typing on a typewriter on the coffee table, when you start, and at many firms when you grow larger, it’s all hands on deck. You do what needs to be done or you don’t last. There’s nowhere to hide. One of my managers once said, “Flying under the radar is not a long-term career goal.”  Amen.



3 thoughts on “Agency Lessons from Mad Men Episode 313, “Shut the door. Have a seat.”

  1. This episode though the way you put it did put a damper on things. I have watched it 2.5 times (I listened for the repeat the same night) and how Don Draper got his team together was inspirational. It makes you realize just how many people you need to run a successful start up.

  2. Some businesses take more people than others to start. Now, you don’t necessarily need as many people but you do need access to people that know how to do things. PS – Very important hire, a good office manager. Find your Joan Holloway right away.

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