Two or three specific scenes made me feel like someone had secretly taped actual experiences from Peppercom's early days and recreated them to become Mad Men, 60s advertising world-centric. That's because this episode showcased all the challenges that a new upstart firm in the marketing world goes through. And, these pains were magnified that much more because all of these executives were used to having the cushiest, most sophisticated resources available to them in their previous agency lives. Yes, the show's writers found a way this week to make a unique personal connection with me like I haven't experienced in years.
For starters, the conference room table mini-plot had me laughing out loud. That's the scene where we see the firm's executives presenting to a prospect while sitting on chairs in a circle in Don Draper's office with the painfully barren void that exists because there isn't any conference table to present on. The background here is that Don Draper won an internal battle among his partners to take far less space in swanky mid-town location offices versus being satisfied with much cheaper (but spacious) digs in the lesser appealing downtown area. Thus, no space exists for a conference room (or a table for that matter). Steve and I faced an almost identical dilemma with our first space in Manhattan's famous Graybar building. By no means was this first office grand (like that of the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce firm). The parallel is that we had no available space for a conference room and my office had to constantly be transformed into such a meeting space when any new prospect or client came to talk with us. I remember (so vividly) the quick 10-minute shuffles to clear out all my personal objects from my office as we did a 180-degree move with my desk and accompanying chairs to create a small conference room-like atmosphere in our humble abode. After coming to our offices 4-5 times, one former client actually commented to Steve that he knew the conference room was actually Ed's office, and we weren't fooling anyone. Unfortunately, this reality existed for us for the better part of a year until we were able to grow and afford more space on that same floor down the hall.
Another striking similarity (that many upstarts can probably relate to) is that bad feeling that hits your gut when you hear the news that an initial first client is terminating the relationship. For Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce it was the little known Jai Lai account which had run out of advertising money. Account executive Pete Campbell delivered the news to the partners. Naturally, acting as a typical creative director who doesn't spend any time caring about finances, Don Draper said, "Good, we're better off without them." Yet, CFO Pryce was startled and offered up that the firm can't afford to lose many more accounts or it won't be in business much longer. He also mentioned his concern that one giant account, Lucky Strike, now made up 72 percent of the firm's billings and that is a very scary reality.
Peppercom faced the exact same dilemma within 18 months of opening up our doors. One of the big-four accounting firms (although back then it was the big-six) had grown so large (that was good) that it actually equaled more than 75 percent of our firm's revenues (that was bad). And, at that time, there were constant rumors on the streets that our firm would be acquired by another large competitor. I remember waking up early on a Saturday morning to pick up the New York Times at my local news stand to see in front page headlines, "X firm looking to merge with Y firm." Y firm happened to be our client, and I was absolutely sick to my stomach for the entire weekend. Needless to say, our top priority over the next six months was focused on growing and winning other business so that this client's importance was minimized greatly.
I could go on and on about how so many other mini plots on this show were so similar to my experiences in our early days (but I won't). 'Mad Men' proves one important cliché- as much as things change, they tend to always stay the same. 'Mad Men' is clearly head and shoulders above almost anything else on TV these days.