The “Mad Men” Approach to Business

Sunday night, while we were watching “Mad Men,” I asked my husband, “If you have sex with your ex, does it count as cheating?”

Not the cheating type and not interested in going backwards ourselves, we chuckled, completely engrossed in the complicated interpersonal relations on the TV in front of us. Sex, guns, office politics, mysterious backgrounds that no one really understands, flashbacks of brothels, and children amid dysfunctional families. What more could you ask for in a great TV show?

I only discovered “Mad Men” this year and while I still don’t know all the characters’ names (man, there are a lot!), I really look forward to the drama of Sunday night and a world I never stepped foot in.

Except that now that I own a public relations company, I can understand part of the creative banter and desire to land significant clients. I love watching the deft way Don Draper handles clients, never seemingly ruffled by bends in the road or emotions spilled onto the table during client powwows.

And I will say, I cannot begin to understand the ready desire to chase the money. The longer I do this type of work, the more I desire to work with only the highest quality people, doing the highest quality of work.

I loved Amy Haimerl’s column in this week’s issue of Crain’s Detroit Business. She articulates why it’s not advisable to follow the “Mad Men” path of business and what to do instead. I wanted to share her insights with you and add a few of my own.

Here’s Amy’s rundown, with my commentary added:

…four tips for avoiding the ‘Mad Men’ trap:

Have a vision: Know where you want to be in 3-5 years. Get people in the same direction. Absolutely! It never works to just work for the paycheck. The vision – especially one that you write down and keep revisiting every so often to let it evolve – is what helps you build a life worth living. A vision, as I learned from my esteemed mentor and friend Paul Saginaw, owner/founder of Zingerman’s, is a living, breathing, changing document. It’s not something to be filed away in a binder to collect dust.

Establish a culture: Get people on the same page. Yes! It’s hard to find good talent, so even before you embark on finding those right people, make sure you know what kind of place you’re building. Last summer, before I hired a full-timer, I wrote a 35-page employee handbook, in which I require every employee, part-time or full-time, to write their vision, outlining personal and professional goals. I painted my office walls sunshine yellow, party pink, chocolate brown. The culture sets the tone.

Manage talent: Eliminate office politics and personal issues, and maximize strategy and culture. If you don’t encourage your team, reward your team, compliment your team on work well done, if all they hear is yelling and disappointment, they won’t be your team for long. Oh, and don’t sleep with any of them (warning to Peggy and Ted!). It’s bad for business, and it clouds your judgment.

Marketing is critical: Don’t expect the phone to ring. You have to go after the business you want. This is particularly heartening for me because in my first six years of business, I’ve done relatively little of this. My phone has rung when it needed to ring and business arrived. I’m now trying to strategically identify who I want to work with and making it happen. After all, don’t you want to be in the driver’s seat?

I want to add a fifth point, something I mentioned in an earlier blog. And that is, define clearly the types of people you want as clients. It was a PRSA article that I read that outlined three non-negotiable characteristics – nice, successful and good character. Two out of three won’t cut it. Establish this first before you step in and do a project. It’s not about the money. It’s about building a life you can be proud of.

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