Mad Men

Lessons from Mad Men

Mad MenI don’t watch much TV at all. There are few shows that I really have the patience for. But recently, I downloaded Series One of Mad Men from my iTunes account. I am utterly hooked. I know the show is on to its 6th series and yet, Episode 12 in Series 1, namely ‘Nixon v Kennedy’, intrigued me.

In this episode, the main character – Don Draper, comes under extreme pressure by the aspiring Pete Campbell.

I won’t ruin the episode for those who might return to watch it but there are a few key personal branding lessons from Mad Men, which I thought I ought to share.

1. In the room.

According to Bertram Cooper, the wise Partner of the firm he co-founded, “The Japanese have a saying,” Cooper continues. “‘A man is whatever room he is in’—and right now, Donald Draper is in this room.”

Lessons from Mad Men_Don DraperThe way I interpret this curious saying is: It does not really matter who you have been and what history you may have had. Anyone’s behaviour is in the context of his or her current environment.

Although I am a real stickler for us, all, being careful about not leaving a trail of reputational mess across the internet or among social media sites, but the point is we are all who we are now, in the context of ‘the room’ in which we find ourselves.

Tip: If we are true to the role we play now and are doing a fine job of that, acting in accordance with organizational norms, then it’s only right that we are judged for who we intend to be right now and not to be pulled back to past histories. And although Don Draper leads a questionable double life outside that room, in the context of the room in which finds himself in (his employer) he is in no place to be judged.

2.  Mr Campbell, who cares

In the same scene, Cooper calmly rebuffs Pete Campbell’s assertions against Don Draper, by saying to Campbell, “Who cares? This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you’ve imagined here…”

Lessons from Mad Men_Pete CampbellMy impression of Cooper soared at this moment. Here is a brilliant man who stood by his star performer. I cast my mind back to the last time I met someone who stood up for someone and expressed loyalty despite immense vulnerability.  We live in an age of immediate satisfaction, judgement, blame, and cynicism.

Tip: One key point from the Bible and the Alchemist is this: We are very good Lawyers for our mistakes; and very good Judges for other’s mistakes. Let’s live by this.

3. Nixon v Kennedy

It is generally taken that the Nixon v Kennedy election was the point at which values changed and ‘the room’ became dominated by image over substance.

Whereas that election was the watershed for image, almost 50 years on, this value is even more extreme.

There are billions being made from empty self-promotion.

00t/12/huty/14427/16Andy Warhol famously stated that one day, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Maybe he didn’t know how right that would turn out to be. But as we now know, there are vehicles that have been set up specifically for deepening the behaviours of narcissism self-aggrandizement.

YouTube boasts that 100+hours of fresh videos – often self-centric content – if it’s not about a cat – are uploaded each minute; then there are the kids at parties who are really not ‘at’ parties. Instead, it’s more like they are showing those who are not there who cut the grade, who’s been invited and to ‘one up’. But they are not really ‘at’ the party, rather taking photos for Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. As long as they have a record on their timeline where they have been and were seen, that’s what they think counts.

I am all for the technology, and embrace the benefits that social media has afforded us. However, there is another side of the same coin. I believe many of us yearn for more substance than image and return to when we really have engaged more deeply with people.

Tip: The next time you want to take a picture for social media reason, do that, and then see if you can ask that person how they are really doing today.

A case in point, I recently asked a CEO of an NGO what were the most important lessons she had learned from being in that role for the last 3 years. She mentioned that she had never been asked such a question; and then happily opened up to me for the next 20 minutes.

That was where substance triumphed over image, relationships were deepened, and my personal brand reputation increased…

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Greg Weiss is the Founder of

Learn more about Greg Weiss here.

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