"During the Depression I saw a man throw a loaf of bread off the back of a truck," says Don Draper at the beginning of this week's episode of Mad Men. "It was more dignified" than a client meeting that Draper just sat in on at Sterling Cooper, his ad agency. The meeting in question involves Horace Cook Jr., an heir to a shipping fortune who intends to spend $3 million on marketing a new jai alai league in America. He is young and full of enthusiasm and has a lavish promotional scheme in mind. Some thoughts:
1. Are you responsible for managing a spendthrift client's behavior? From the beginning, Don is uncomfortable taking Horace Jr.'s money; he scowls when a gleeful Pete Campbell refers to the client as the "fatted calf" and "dressed for the oven." (Having no such qualms, Lane Pryce, the agency's new financial officer, rewards Pete with a "Nicely done my boy.")
Later, however, Draper and Pryce and Bertram Cooper meet with Horace Cook Sr., who admits that he doubts the viability of Junior's vanity project. "My son grew up in a cloud of success," the shipping magnate mutters. "But it was my success." Still, he won't stand in his son's way and gives Sterling Cooper his consent to go after the business. At lunch, Don makes one last stab at convincing Horace Jr. to think twice about jai alai, but the young client remains unmoved. Horace Jr. adds, petulantly, that if the league fails, it will be Sterling Cooper's fault.
The sequence raises interesting questions about entrepreneurial parenting. It also raises questions about clients: Are you responsible for making sure they spend wisely? Don feels instinctively that the big splashy jai alai launch that Horace Jr. wants is ill-advised. Though Sterling Cooper stands to benefit from separating the scion from a healthy chunk of his inheritance, Don seems to think it might be in the agency's best interests to guide Horace Jr. to a more realistic business opportunity.
It's honorable, but is it necessary? Is a business responsible for trimming a client's sails? Some would argue that Don has a responsibility to his staff and to the agency's shareholders to maximize revenue. On the other hand, a campaign that results in financial success for the agency and utter failure for the client could do much to damage Sterling Cooper's reputation. Do you think Don did the right thing?
2. Always have a backup. Another Sterling Cooper client, a diet soft drink named Patio, has hired the agency to create an introductory TV commercial. The ad plays off an Ann-Margret number from Bye Bye Birdie. At the last minute, the director drops out and there's a panic. No backup can be found, so Don taps Sal Romano, the agency's art director, to handle it. But he asks his deputies an important question in passing: What were you going to do if the original director had to be fired? The message: You should always maintain a list of people you can recruit or promote in the event a key member of your team needs to be replaced,
3. Good managers tolerate failure. So the Birdie shoot goes off without a hitch and Sal delivers exactly what the clients said they wanted. And yet they are unhappy. Something's not right, and they deem the commercial unusable. Some bloggers have suggested that the spot was rejected for being too overtly gay. Roger thinks the problem is, simply, "It's not Ann-Margret." (Bonus: Here's a real commercial that Ann-Margret did for Canada Dry in the late '60s. Trippy.)
Dejected, Sal goes to see Don, who surprises him by saying that "the only good thing" to come out of the botched commercial was that Sal proved himself as a commercial director. This thrills Sal, because he has lately been worrying about his future. "No one wants illustrations any more," he tells his wife Kitty. "It's all about photography now." That Don endorses Sal's work despite the client's rejection shows that he is not rattled by failure--although he can't help himself from taking a dig at Sal's failure with the Patio assignment, saying "I hope that never happens to me."
4. When naming a company, avoid a silent consonant. Having won Horace Jr.'s business, the team at Sterling Cooper plays with some jai alai equipment supplied by the nascent "National Jai Alai Association" or NJAA. Horace Jr. has no idea how confusing "that J" will be for the American public, Don notes dryly. Then he breaks a glass ant farm with an errant ball and says, "Bill it to the kid."
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