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Mad Men’s top four bad business behaviors

Julie Hansen //December 27, 2013//

Mad Men’s top four bad business behaviors

Julie Hansen //December 27, 2013//

Even though I worked in advertising long after the Mad Men era, the ghosts of Don Draper and Roger Sterling could occasionally be glimpsed roaming the halls after a long day, ice tinkling, cigarettes glowing. The agencies I worked for grew in huge exponential bursts, expanding from two employees and a part time receptionist to a thirty person staff over night after landing a big account. It was hard not to get caught up in the frenzy and power that often accompanies a winning streak. 

While much of the bad behavior exhibited by Don Draper & Co. has lessened in this day and age (or at least it’s less obvious) what struck me most about the much-anticipated premiere of Mad Men was how little some business behavior has changed.  The same types of mistakes are being made – perhaps in a less egregious manner –  but if you look around many sales organizations, you can occasionally spot them.  And they can still cause as much trouble as Don Draper on a bender. 

Here are a few mistakes worth avoiding entirely:

1.  Don’t humiliate the competition.

This includes saying negative things about them, rejoicing in their losses or drawing undue attention to their mistakes.   Just like lying, this always backfires.   Maybe not immediately, as in the case of Roger Sterling’s jab at competition Y&R for stealing the Pond’s account, but eventually it will catch up with you.  Example:  When Sterling Cooper ran a help-wanted ad in the Times in order to call negative attention to Y&R’s poor treatment of minorities, they were called on their bluff and forced to hire a new (minority) secretary to save face.   A risky and costly mistake for a firm that is barely making payroll.  Whether it’s the sixties, the nineties or the 2000’s, the same rule seems to hold true in business:  Keep the focus on yourself.  Maintain your integrity by acknowledging both your competitor’s strengths and keeping their weaknesses in perspective.  You’ll earn more in trust and respect than you ever will by throwing your competitor under the 42nd Street bus.

2.  Check your ego at the door.

Sure a little internal competition can be good for business but when Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling play a cat and mouse game to determine who is more important, who needs the bigger office and who should meet with clients, they waste valuable time and resources pounding on their own chests.  Using clients as pawns in a power struggle to stroke needy egos is behavior most businesses and salespeople can’t afford to indulge in.   It’s more important than ever to show a united front to clients.   You’re inviting them into your business “family,” and if your family includes infighting like the Jacksons or Lohans, they may not be anxious to accept.   Are things always fair?  No.  (I’m sorry if your mother told you differently.)  Take the long view.  Next time you’ll get the bigger piece of cake, or office or i-pad. 

3.  You can show a client a dancing bean, but don’t expect them to bite.

Hard-working creative Peggy Olson shows off a cutting-edge campaign for Heinz in which the beans seem to “dance” in space.  She is quickly cut off by the client who reminds her that kidney beans are slimy, organ-shaped vegetables that no one wants to see. When Don sides with the client, Peggy is miffed. Has Don lost his edge?  Maybe. But I think more likely he is learning to pick his battles.  Had Peggy spent as much time researching the client as she did the state-of-the-art technology that could create “dancing beans” she probably would have found that Heinz wasn’t a good candidate for a cutting-edge campaign.They weren’t ready to show the beans, much less dancing ones!  In the same way, pushing a client to take a leap that is significantly outside of their comfort zone is best done in small steps. It requires knowing their history (what have they been doing?) performing discovery (what are the boundaries of their comfort zone?) and building a solid case to advance while addressing risks along the way.

4.   And finally, don’t drink at office parties. 

Or at least know your limit – and stick to it.  Lest you end up telling off your boss (Peggy Olson) or doing a sexy song and dance for the boss in a french accent (the new Mrs. Draper). During the sixties what happened in the office stayed at the office. Now there are a hundred new reasons not to make a fool out of yourself at business parties (camera phones, Facebook, twitter, etc.) and yet the news is full of stories about people getting canned or at the very least, embarrassed after being memorialized at the office party engaged in distinctly un-business-like behavior. Unless you are Don Draper, you likely can’t pull it off and show your face unscathed the next day.