Three Times Mad Men Needed a PR Agency
May 19, 2015
May 19, 2015
Throughout the seven seasons of the award-winning period drama Mad Men, we’ve been wowed by the creative advertising work of protagonist Don Draper and his colleagues at the various iterations of Sterling Cooper. However, the public relations savvy of our favorite advertising professionals of the 1960s was often lacking. In honor of the series finale, we present three moments in which these Mad Men could have used some public relations help.
Don Draper Quits Tobacco: In Season Four, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce flagship client Lucky Strike decides to dump the agency, straining its finances and fraying nerves. Sick of waiting for his partners to make a move, Draper goes rogue, penning a letter to the New York Times in which he states his firm will no longer work with tobacco companies. The next morning, his partners berate him for not warning them. “You should have consulted us,” one partner says. “Why?” Asks Don. “So it could be evaluated for its strengths and weaknesses, to knock it down to risk versus reward?”
Exactly, Don. A good public relations professional could have helped you develop a strategy for writing the letter and its aftermath. While partner Bert Cooper resigned in anger (his resignation was short-lived), Don got lucky—the American Cancer Society reached out to the firm to help them with an anti-smoking campaign.
Moving to McCann-Erikson: In the final episodes of the series, the agency learns that its owner, McCann-Erikson, is absorbing it into its mega-agency. The news takes SC&P by surprise and the partners make a last-ditch effort to maintain the autonomy of its office, which fails. When the partners gather the staff to announce the news, there’s clearly a lack of agreement on messaging and the rank-and-file are unconvinced, wandering away from the gobsmacked partners before the meeting is over—presumably to start sending out their resumes.
Internal communication is just as important as external communication. Having messaging in place during a crisis is critical. Instead of fighting about being absorbed into the McCann-Erikson universe, maybe Don and his team should have been figuring out how to break the news to their longtime employees.
McCann-Erikson’s culture problem: SC&P’s move to McCann was perhaps hardest on Joan, who faced harassment from her male colleagues at the new firm from the first meeting she had with them. Upon being pressured by the head of the firm to quit or be fired, Joan threatens to bring a media firestorm down on McCann—in the form of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, the American Civil Liberties Union and Betty Friedan. Hobart fires back that his firm buys so much advertising in the media that the New York Times would publish Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf if he asked them to.
Hobart got lucky in that Joan took half the value of her promised partnership and went on her way. But if a tough woman like Joan couldn’t handle the culture at the fictional McCann-Erikson, it’s likely another woman would eventually blow the whistle on the rampant sexism in the office. Hopefully Jim Hobart called a public relations agency to help get a crisis plan into place once he’d finished writing the check to Joan.
Which Mad Men moments stand out to you as needing the help of a good PR agency? Let us know in the comments.