As I mentioned in a Tweet this week, the Season finale of Mad Men, was one of the greatest paeans to the entrepreneurial spirit of the advertising industry that I’ve ever seen in media. Throughout the episode we kept high-fiving each other as great line, after great line kept rolling out of the characters’ mouths. The best line of the night, and the most perfect line I’ve heard uttered about big agencies happened as Roger Sterling and Don Draper were leaving the Sterling Cooper offices after their stealth raid. Sterling looks at the modern, wood paneled reception area with his name on the wall, and the fancy plate glass doors and says to Draper, “When do you think we’ll be back working in a place like this?” Draper responds “I never really wanted to work in a place like this.”
Howls of delight ensued.
Whether you’ve entered the freelance, small-biz, solo-preneur pool voluntarily, or involuntarily, as many have over the past year, that line resonated. Some may say “sour grapes,” but many of the advertising-displaced stayed in the game because we really do love it. It’s fun, interesting, challenging and ever-changing. We just now choose to play the game by our rules, beyond the walls of big agencies with modern reception areas and fancy plate glass doors.
Draper, like many of us has the epiphany that the cool work space, the trendy address, the tricked-out office spaces etc., are not what this business is about. For all of his character flaws, and he has many, the thing I admire about Draper is his absolute commitment to the work. For many of us, it’s all about the work, yet the places we work (or once did) do not share our passion for the work. Rather, they are about rank, privilege, bonuses (though, tough lesson to agency-aspirants: bonuses in agencies are rare. They always cry “bad year/quarter/week/day.” If you seek bonuses, go to work for a “consultancy.” Wall St. can’t really hand them out anymore either. ). The work, and, ultimately, client needs, get lost amidst the noise and superfluity of the agency.
In a previous post I wrote about how the Mad Men creators really nailed something about agency life via the analogy of the mutilated foot. Nineteen sixty three in the show is the doppelganger of the current moment in the business. The creators of the show have shown how and why agencies end up where they do, and have shown what happens to the people who work for them. No doubt, 2010 will show what happens after people have decided that it’s not about the agency, but rather about the work and your clients, and what happens when individuals take charge of their destinies. Mad Men in 2010 should be interesting as well.