It’s the end of an era, in more ways than one.

Mad Men Final: The Lost Skills of AdvertisingThe hit AMC show Mad Men series finale wrapped up a glimpse into a lost world of advertising. At the same time, the world of advertising keeps evolving – from the sweeping impact of TV to the unknowable change digital will have on the industry. Advertising just keeps rolling along with more change, more disruption, more challenges for agencies of all types. But as long as clients need to move their products and services, there will always be agencies – of one sort or another.

There is one unchanging truth about advertising that Mad Men really highlights – this business is all about the relationships.

Like I’ve always said, this business is about relationships.” Roger Sterling [7.04]

No matter how much change the industry goes through, anyone who works in advertising understands the importance of your relationships with clients, prospects, staff and vendors. In other words, relationships matter. We can all learn some important lessons from Mad Men – recover the lost skills of advertising that are at the core of every successful agency:

The Lost Skills Of Advertising.


“If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” Don Draper [3.02]

As a TV show, the leadership skills of the Mad Men stars can sometimes be a little questionable. Often the characters teach us more about what not to do. Sadly, it’s also true that leadership in the agency world is becoming harder and harder to find. Leadership is often a missing quality, and the lack of it leads to mistakes, disruption and denial. Mad Men also shows that sometime you need to take risks, question assumptions, think laterally, and to see the big picture. Leadership requires that you navigate around barriers and often around other people. It’s been stated often that a true leader knows how to clearly communicate a vision for the future and provide direction on how to get there. If there is one important leadership lesson Mad Men clearly teaches us over and over: always take care of your people.

“I want you to be very clear about this: You were fired. I wanted you out. Cooper wanted you out. And you would be…if it weren’t for this man. [motions to Don] He thought you deserved another chance. That’s right. He fought for you.” Roger Sterling [1.04]


Seems to be some lapse in communication – regarding my return.” Don Draper [7.03]

Every agency person comments, “Aren’t we in the communication business?” right after some major communication breakdown. Living in a world of information overload, trying to deal with email, chat, text, voice mail and more, makes getting a clear message through a lost art. In marketing, it’s more important than ever to be clear and convey difficult concepts in a simple way. In other words, communicate! Skip the marketing-speak and be clear. Express what your expectations are, and always respond with more questions if you’re not clear. Never assume anything. The more precise, simple language you use, the more effective your communication will be.

“I know you’re all feeling the darkness here today. But there’s no reason to give in. No matter what you’ve heard, this process will not take years. In my heart, I know we cannot be defeated, because there is an answer that will open the door. There is a way around this system. This is a test of our patience and commitment. One great idea can win someone over.” Don Draper [6.08]


“Are you kidding? I’m an account man. I spend half my day tiptoeing around creative cry babies and the other half drinking with ungrateful turnips who just fell off the truck. I’m completely replaceable even though I brought in a huge account.” Pete Campbell [2.05]

Teamwork and Mad Men seems like a strange combination: after all, the show is about establishing individual characters. But look closer, how many times did a team save the agency, Don, or some client. Teamwork was often the difference between success and failure. Mad Men shows that there is nothing like a great team to pull you out of trouble. Effective team skills are more important today than ever. Projects range all over the world, across the entire range of marketing tools, requiring a whole set of new and different skills. Teamwork demands effective relationships between departments, clients, and vendors. Focus on understanding how to build and enhance teamwork through interpersonal relationships.

“You came here because we do this better than you and part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.” Don Draper [3.05]

New Business:

The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.” Don Draper [1.10]

Anyone familiar with Sanders Consulting will know that new business will be a major point of discussion. And if there is something Mad Men clearly demonstrated, it’s the importance of new business. Without new business, an agency will not endure. What Don, Roger, Joan and Pete all understood, is that relationships are the secret to winning a new account (even though for some, relationships came more easily than for others). The art of building relationships, what we call chemistry, is often forgotten in our fast-moving high tech world. Understanding how to build relationships, establish chemistry, and present solutions in a way the prospect will buy is truly a lost art. Learn this skill and wipe out your new business losses. Eliminate the agony of rejection that fills your shop every time you walk back in a loser from another new business pitch. If there is one lesson from Mad Men, it’s that new business is the life blood of any agency.

Last year at this time, whether you knew it or not, survival of this company was on the line. And I look at the faces in this room who have given their all to this tenuous recovery, and I say, prepare to take a great leap forward. Prepare to swim the English channel and then drown in champagne. There are six weekends between now and the pitch. We’re going to spend them all here. We will celebrate Christmas here. We will ring in the New Year together. And in the end we will represent Jaguar and it will be worth it. Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we’ve arrived.” Don Draper [5.10]

The More Things Change… The More They Stay the Same.

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.” Don Draper [1.01]

Long after the final episode of Mad Men has aired, those of us who love advertising will always remember with fondness the ups and downs of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. The outstanding characters, a tiny glimpse behind the mystique of advertising, and the great storytelling will long be remembered.

ad agency leadershipWe all live in this crazy agency world. But we don’t have to make the same Mad Men mistakes. Work hard to make sure you develop leadership at your agency. Work to improve communication. Find a way to build better teams. Grow your agency.

But the toughest lesson we can learn from the crew at Sterling Cooper Draper is never settle for less than you are worth. Don’t let prospects, who know so little but want so much, ruin your life. Keep dreaming about what it would be like to move into larger offices because you are busting at the seams with new clients, new people, and new equipment. Always remember how good it would be to beat those other guys across town and blow past them with your new business wins.

Don’t you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Those are the stakes. But when it does work out it’s like having that first cigarette. Your head gets all dizzy, your heart pounds, your knees go week. Remember that? Old business is just old business.” Roger Sterling [2.04]