Even Don Draper Needs Coaching
Like everyone who is hooked on Mad Men, I eagerly awaited the season opener this past Sunday. As someone who has done PR for a living for many years, I was curious about the name of the season opener, "Public Relations."
As with everything related to this terrific AMC original series set in the 50s and now 60s world of advertising, public relations had multiple meanings in this episode. Copywriter Peggy Olson teamed up with account services lead Pete Campbell to stage what they called a PR stunt -- hiring two actresses to fake a fight over the last ham in a market before Thanksgiving. The goal -- to give their client, who produces the hams, a revenue boost through publicity before the national holiday -- was seemingly achieved and the client increased their ad spend with the agency.
The actresses took the fight a little too literally, however, and one pressed charges against the other. Peggy had to go hat-in-hand (well, really, on head -- this is the early 60s and women still wore them) to her angry boss, creative director Don Draper to get the bail money to have the actress released and to get both to stay mum about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's (SCDP) part in the widely covered ham stunt.
It was funny to hear Peggy describe her idea for the stunt, saying that they couldn't claim credit for it or get paid for it, as it was public relations, but it could get their client the attention they needed to feel that the SCDP ads were working and should be continued and possibly expanded. Even today, PR and advertising have an uneasy relationship with advertising people and advertising-focused marketing people often believing that advertising builds brands and PR only supports this effort.
As PR has shifted over the decades since the Mad Men era, PR agencies have risen and thrived, mostly separately from ad agencies, but sometimes as separate but equal divisions. And with the massive shift to the internet and the blogosphere rather than print publications or broadcast vehicles to reach customers, PR is in a much stronger position in the new digital age of our profession.
From PR Stunt to Media Training Lesson
The more prominent PR piece of the episode had our anti-hero Draper, a celebrated ad man of his day who has just launched a Glo-Coat television ad that has everyone buzzing, in the uncomfortable position of being interviewed by Advertising Age. The end of the episode shows him again across the table from another interviewer, this time from the Wall Street Journal.
How does Don Draper do in this foray into using public relations to help his fledgling ad agency continue the buzz of his ad campaign and leverage his notoriety as a great ad man? In the first interview, he is his usual mysterious recalcitrant self and gives the reporter nothing to work with. He breaks one of the first rules of interviews -- don't irritate the interviewer -- and pays the price with an unflattering portrait of him that does not serve the new agency well and even causes a lucrative client to leave the firm.
After he is chastised for failing at this part of his job -- promoting the agency's success -- he agrees to take another bite of the PR apple and really goes for it, this time spinning the tale of a cocky confident ad talent who led the exodus from his former stodgy ownership to this hot new ad firm that is going to go places. We don't know the results of that interview yet, but it was definitely more revealing than the first one and the ending music encourages the viewer to cheer him on.
If Only Joanie Handled the Preparation
But what should SCDP have done with both of these PR "opportunities" for their most important asset, Don Draper? Certainly not send him out without any preparation, which clearly is what they did. Could these otherwise intelligent people who have known this man for years not have predicted the mess he would make with the first interview? Did no one find out from the reporter what his angle was and help Don prepare? He seemed to be caught completely flat-footed and surprised by the fact that this was a personal profile.
And even with the second interview, which his senior partner, Bert Cooper, set up through a friend at the WSJ to do damage control for the first interview, Don was left to his own devices to decide to take a completely different tack and make things up about a second floor they don't have and who knows what else. Again, no one sat him down and ran through what the reporter was looking for and what types of questions Don may receive. And, even more important, no one talked with him about what would be the best outcome from this interview for SCDP.
This is not to say Don Draper would have been an easy subject to coach before an interview. Having prepared hundreds of top executives over the years for media interviews, I can absolutely testify that some of them were not far from the Draper style of, "I don't need coaching for this."
If SCDP was my company or my client, I would have recommended they work through Joan Harris, the office and traffic manager for the agency. If Joan had done her usual job of managing everything, she would have had the possible questions and some recommended answers for Don in advance of each interview. She would have used just the right amount of humor and persuasiveness to give him some pointers that would have made the first interview less disastrous and helped him think through the second one so he was bombastic without making mistakes. Come to think of it, Joan would be a great executive coach in general.
We will see next week whether the second interview, which was on the edge by the glimpse of what we saw, results in positive coverage or causes Don to slip up when fact checkers at the WSJ discover there is no second floor at SCDP.
What are your predictions for what the outcome will be?