The reason I liked the program so much was I could closely identify with it. Why? I lived it during the seventies and eighties. The advertising agency business was my livelihood during that twenty-year span and I was fortunate to be a part of a young maverick group that broke away from a larger agency to form a new shop with a lot to offer, but few material resources. We started with just three accounts and three staff members – each holding responsibility for various phases of the business. My job was primarily account services and contact; the president of the firm took on marketing and creative while the third partner was in charge of art direction. To say we had fun doesn’t begin to cover the experience. What we didn’t know about the business, and there seemed to be more than enough of that, we invented. We grew quickly because the “band of three” had as its main focus taking client creativity seriously and trying different approaches that were untested.
Our agency became a major force in the market when we were selected by one of the major banks in Indianapolis. By this time, we had grown to the size of a dozen people and were held together by a philosophy of “let’s try it.” I don’t want to give the impression that we were “fly-by-night.” We were not, but conventional advertising was not on our minds. Consequently, The Green Briefcase Campaign for Merchants National Bank took the market by storm, and led to the bank growing from footings of around four hundred thousand to over a billion dollars in less than three years. It also assured our success in the industry.
Other similarities could be compared with “Mad Men.” Women were a significant part of our growth plans. Where in past agency experience, the women were destined to be secretaries and media sources, in our agency the distaff side of the ledger filled creative slots; principal positions and client contact assignments. All served very well and, upon leaving us, ended up in top flight management positions.
Salaries and ownership were also on the docket. We wanted to make sure that everyone felt appreciated and so salary reviews became not only essential, but a way to show our staff what it meant to work extra hours and holidays. One of our women writers would come in around noon, but would not leave her office until ten at night. As long as the work was completed, we let her set her own hours. Another writer, this time a man, chose to write his copy in an old fashioned bathtub. That’s right! He painted it blue with gold feet and stuffed it with pillows. I can still see him working in that tub and the brilliant copy he created is still some of the best in my recollections. By the way, he went on to author an historical novel.
There were other similarities with “Mad Men.” Almost to a person, our home lives suffered. We were all so dedicated to making the agency a success, there didn’t seem time to cover the home scene. Our children grew up quickly and credit goes to the mothers who were there covering the long hours we spent building the business.
One discrepancy I do find in the series is the amount of drinking and smoking that took place inside the TV agency walls. That may have been true of a shop in Manhattan or Los Angeles, but wasn’t so much so in the Midwest.
To say that witnessing the final episodes of “Mad Men” will bring back memories for me, and I’m sure the others who were are part of that era, doesn’t begin to cover the feelings. If you have any doubt as to the authenticity of the programs, you can lay that notion aside. They are as true as true can be – right down to the desk lamps, phone books and typewriters. NO COMPUTERS!