Agency CEOs on what we can (and can’t) learn from ‘Mad Men’ today

By Andrew McMains


Mad Men spiced up an otherwise predictable panel discussion of agency models, creativity and talent recruitment (the old agency model is broken! Effective marketing stems from understanding the consumer! It’s all about ideas!) at Tuesday’s Bloomberg CEO Summit, part of Advertising Week.
  Panelist Bob Jeffrey of JWT injected the first reference to the popular AMC series in response to a question about how to retain talent. Mad Men, he argued, “has been a positive recruiting thing for our industry. Even though it’s advertising in the 60s, it shows people having fun. There’s a certain sexiness, a certain glamour.” JWT’s worldwide CEO added that “we have to get back to the entertainment side of what we do. I’m part of a big holding company. The holding companies in some ways have had a negative impact on the agencies. There’s so much pressure on the agencies … that we forget where we are in terms of the creative side. Mad Men is a good reminder of that.”
  Jeffrey’s pop-culture reference quickly became fodder for one-liners from Arnold global CEO Andrew Benett and GlobalHue CEO Don Coleman.
  “You mean you’re allowed to have fun in this business?” Benett asked sarcastically.
  “Those were before the days of sexual harassment,” Coleman quipped, triggering a roar of laughter from the audience.

  Later, Publicis U.S. CEO Susan Gianinno used Mad Men to illustrate how client expectations have changed through the years, in part due to the proliferation of new media channels.
  “We need to be more innovative than what they did in the Mad Men days. We had captive audiences then,” Gianinno said. “Today, we have to put a lot more energy into innovation. The standard has been raised.”
  Moderator Betty Liu of Bloomberg TV, in an unspoken reference to Mad Men‘s Don Draper character, asked if the era of the “lone creative genius” was over. In essence, several panelists said it was, although client executives and agency staffers still gravitate toward leaders, according to Jeffrey and Coleman. Organic CEO Marita Scarfi added that “we’re becoming more change agents for our clients.”