Mad Men Lessons: Know Your Business

April 15, 2013
Style: “Mad Men”

Last night’s episode of Mad Men, this season’s second installment, saw Don Draper continuing to lower the moral bar at home and rattle the cages of his associates at work with his client management decision-making. The episode tied nicely into the weekly business lesson from which Volano is drawing parallels; know your business. However, the character I find most intriguing right now is Peggy.

For those of you that are new to Mad Men, Peggy began the series as a secretary for Sterling Cooper and was eventually promoted to work for Don Draper despite the glass ceiling women faced in the workplace during the Sixties. Peggy was sharp and had a good sense for writing copy and directing creative work that sold product. Last season she left the firm to work for a competitor and a director-level title. In last night’s episode Peggy casually relays a conversation to her boss Stan Chaough that she had with a former peer about a large account (Heinz Ketchup) that may be shopping for a new ad agency. Stan pounces on this information, draws up a proposal for Heinz and implores Peggy to focus on winning the account. Peggy is obviously conflicted about the perceived betrayal of her former employer and friend who told her this on confidence.

We are left heading into next week’s episode unsure of how Peggy will handle the conflict between her conscience and her desire to realize her full creative and career potential. Will she go after Heinz, a play that will be hard to conceal in the incestuous New York ad agency business?

Peggy’s boss reminds her that friends and work are a separate thing. He tells her that “this is how wars are won.” Peggy heard a story in confidence. The information could be potentially lucrative for her business. We’re left to wonder if Peggy knows her business. She works for a cutthroat industry that makes a living on getting meetings and exciting potential clients with great advertising campaigns. In sales, getting the meeting is usually the hardest part and now Peggy’s team not only knows that the time might be right to reach out to Heinz, they can dream up a killer campaign.

I’ll leave the questions of integrity up to you. If Peggy fails to act on what could be a career-defining piece of information, has she failed to truly understand the nature of the advertising business? These issues can divide executives. They also beg a larger question. How can you drive your business if you’re not sure what you are really in the business of? Last week we focused on the importance of knowing who you are as a company. Equally important is knowing where you stand in your industry space. What is your competitive advantage? How do you differentiate your brand in the market? To what extent must your company identity mirror the industry in which you compete?

In Mad Men we have yet to see characters truly act in the best interest of anyone other than themselves. My money is on Peggy landing Heinz and maybe that’s as it should be.