A fulfilling career is possible -- but it’s different for everyone
THE SCENE: Don Draper’s office, after dark.
DON DRAPER:That’s the way it works. There are no credits on commercials.
PEGGY OLSON: But you got the CLIO!
DON: It’s your job. I give you money; you give me ideas.
PEGGY: And you never say, 'Thank you.'
DON: That’s what the money is for! You’re young; you will get your recognition. And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas. Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day.
That scene, from the Sept. 5 episode of “Mad Men,” sums up so much that is right, wrong, and downright screwed up about the ways creatives in advertising do their work and get judged and rewarded for it. It’s one of the few scenes from that show that truly depicts an aspect of the business that hasn’t changed much in 45 years.
Is there any happiness in advertising without recognition? Should money be enough? Do people in other professions need their work to be as fulfilling?
At first glance, the “Mad Men” scene seems simple: Peggy feels unappreciated. Don believes in some form of tough love, with a variation of “tough s---." But with his name on the door and a new CLIO to polish, Don shows that there’s a motivation beyond money that drives him, too.
Enough about the show’s characters. Let’s look at what the scene suggests in today’s ad world.
No credits in commercials? Bull. Maybe the viewers at home don’t think much about who worked on a spot, but people in this business do. Credits are everywhere, and they often list every layer of management on down the line that touched the idea.
Count ideas? You bet your ass you should. Because even that two-year mark is important for anyone in the business, where you’re only as good as whatever you’ve done lately. If Peggy wants to move up in her career, she ought to keep counting her ideas. Because in advertising, the ideas, more than her sparkling personality, will get her where she wants to be.
Trust me, there are plenty of chief creative officers and other agency leaders who got there, in part, by being bolstered by the awards they won in the first two years of their career, and deservedly so in most cases.
Is the money enough of a "thank you"? For some, perhaps, but not for many. This exposes the central conflict of a creative life in advertising. The writers, art directors (and for that matter, most everybody else) serve their agency and client masters in an act of pure commerce. We want it to be commerce with a sense of soul or purpose. At the same time, we stake our careers, ambitions, and reputations on what we produce. To do that, we need the gratitude -- from our clients, our bosses, or our peers -- that money doesn’t necessarily buy. Gratitude is also a two-way street -- you don’t need to be thanking your bosses or Jesus every morning like Draper suggests, but no one in this business works alone. There’s always someone’s signature on a paycheck, and we should be grateful.
On the other hand, money can be a powerful motivator. There is, for some people, the opportunity to sell out and make more money, even if the quality of the work won’t be the highest. But that opportunity to sell out often comes because someone did great work in the first place -- and made a reputation on it. It’s rare to get the money without getting the recognition first.
Yes, we’re shifting to more collaboration, more encouragement of ideas by committee or the “crowd," an attempted movement to more sharing or shifting or eliminating of credit, but those notions won’t work for long. They simply take away much of the motivation that drives people in the advertising business. Without anyone to lay claim to a great idea, no one will take credit or blame for the lousy ideas, too. Getting credit doesn’t mean mere ego boosts, it means accountability -- and in business, accountability is expected in every department.
We spend so much time attempting to understand consumers’ motivations, and we don’t understand the motivations of the people we work with and for. And just like consumers, not everyone in the ad industry is motivated by the same one or two things.
Are you happy just to get paid for your work? Do you need some other form of motivation? Only you can answer that for yourself. Me, I once spent an afternoon driving a go-cart while being filmed in a TV commercial I wrote. I was pretty damn happy that day. Most days, the happiness doesn’t come that easy, but nothing in life is ever easy.
Many people in advertising simply can’t imagine doing anything else -- at least practically speaking. We’re the artists who know the commerce comes first, and that will always be a struggle. It might be best to find the happiness in the uncertainty of the industry, the ups and downs, the great campaigns, and the hack ideas. It all comes in one package.
Who knows if Peggy Olson or Don Draper truly are happy or appreciated. It’s just a TV show. For us, the pursuit of happiness, appreciation, or money might drive us to succeed -- or it might just drive us, well, mad.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
Visit his copywriting website, see his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.
And please, buy his book for 99 cents.