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National Tragedy and the Workplace: Mad Men Philosophies
By: Don McLean
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What does The Flood have to do with the assassination of MLK? That and many other comments came from viewers on the fifth installment of Mad Men season 6. This episode did one thing very well. It showed the public how white collar working professionals dealt with a national tragedy at work just less than 50 years ago. Dealing with a national tragedy at work is not easy no matter what time period you are in. Every person and every company deals with these situations differently. Here are five situations in which the Mad Men era deals with national tragedy in the workplace; the similarities to people you may know today are haunting.
  1. The Paul Newman: Don Draper and the rest of Madison Avenue found out about the tragedy while at the Andy Awards with Paul Newman giving the keynote address. One audience member yelled out and the hall quickly cleared for a break in the festivities. When they summoned everyone back into the hall, Don said, "What else are we going to do?" The idea for this set was to forget about it and move on. After the party Don just wants to fall asleep.
  2. The Harry Crane: Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, Harry Crane is fielding calls from clients on make goods for all the commercials they are not airing. Crane boldly says "Enough of this crap already," much to the dismay of Pete Campbell. Crane thinks there is too much news coverage on MLK's death taking up his precious airtime. Crane's philosophy is to work through the day and move past the situation.
  3. The Creepy Client: Roger's "insurance friend" Randall Walsh wants to come in the next day, again less than 24 hours after the assassination. Walsh wants to take advantage of the situation with a new ad. He had a trippy dream where he thinks he spoke to MLK himself. He wants a print advertisement for his property insurance with his company name, a Molotov cocktail, a match, and a coupon at the bottom. Don's morals stand to attention and he agrees with the client's current art director not to move forward. Don says it is in poor taste. The creepy client philosophy is focused on inappropriate opportunism.
  4. The Helpers: We see a few instances of people needing to spring into action in the wake of the tragedy. Henry helps the mayor. Abe helps the public by reporting for the New York Times, heading to "... Harlem in a tuxedo." Megan takes the kids to a vigil in the park. She says, " I just can't sit around the apartment anymore. I feel like I have to do something." The philosophy for the helpers is to focus on the needs of others.
  5. The Peggy: Ever the insightful one, Peggy hits the nail on the head. Upon arriving at the office she tells her African-American secretary, "You should go home. In fact, none of us should be working." Back at SCDP, Bert Cooper closes the office early. This group realizes what effect a tragedy has on society and places high value on employee morale.

As we see in each instance, many people have very different ways of dealing with a national tragedy as large as the MLK assassination, especially in the workplace. From extremes of not caring about it to taking time off of work, the Mad Men era is all over the map in dealing with this. This is surprising to see since just five years earlier the world was in shock with the death of JFK. Which set do you or your company fall into when dealing with a national tragedy at work? Was there a sixth category you would add to this list?



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About the Author
Don McLean, MBA is an account supervisor at Airfoil Group, an independent marketing and public relations firm serving tech companies and innovation-centric brands with offices in Detroit, New York and Silicon Valley. Follow Don on twitter at@mclean_don.  
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