Martin Waxman

Mad Men: Ad Agency of the Future

By: Martin Waxman | May 2, 2013 | 

MadMenWe’ve come a long way in the last few years.

Pretty much everyone knows the definition of blog.

Most ad agencies – and people, for that matter – are on Facebook.

We’ve stopped putting ‘the’ in front of Twitter and LinkedIn.

And many of the Big Insights and thought leadership we’ve heard and re-tweeted have simply become the way we connect and do day-to-day business.

The insights such as:

  • Be transparent and authentic on social networks.
  • Don’t sell; tell stories that engage your community.
  • Develop a strategy and be able to nimbly adapt.
  • ROI matters. Set up measurable goals and don’t be afraid of numbers.
  • It’s important to know where your audience is and go where there.

For the past year or so, I’ve noticed these same sage proclamations keep popping up at conferences, in webinars, and in blog posts.

Now don’t get me wrong, they’re still extremely important. But it dawned on me that as social media has crossed the line from indie to mainstream, these principles have become embedded in the way we work.

And now many of us are on the same page. So… if that’s the case, where’s the next wave of innovations going to come from?

Start Drinking at 10 A.M.

Maybe it’s because they have new episodes, but I think we can find the answers in the turbulent and tipsy world of Mad Men.

Here are three ways your ad agency can stand out:

  1. Begin with a brilliant idea. Color TV was just catching on in the mid 60s, yet you don’t hear the Sterling Cooperites talking about color, color, color when they’re dreaming up ads. That’s just the tool, very much like social networks are today. Don and his team know the idea – that perfect fusion of strategy + creativity – is the ultimate goal. That’s what they strive for, not the channel that delivers it.
  2. Woo your customers. You have to fall in love with them and get them to feel the same about you. On Mad Men, they’re wined, dined and…well, let’s not go there. If you don’t place your customer on a pedestal, understand their needs, and treat them like the most important people on the planet, you’ll always be a service provider and nothing more. Sterling Cooper knows that implicitly, and also accepts that if they cheat on a relationship (i.e. Heinz Beans), they may be in for a messy breakup.
  3. Get the chemistry right. I think we’ve all worked in places when the people just don’t gel, office politics reigns supreme, everyone is paranoid and crazy. The output…? Well, it lacks energy, that’s for sure. You need some healthy competition and conflicts, and there’s plenty of that on Mad Avenue. But ultimately, their workplace, like the show itself, functions as an ensemble cast with stars. They like, respect, and admire each other – and even Don grudgingly realizes the best idea can come from anyone.

Sure, there’s going to be another shiny tool around the corner (and I can’t wait to try it!), but sometimes we need to look backwards in order to move ahead. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce really could be the ad agency of the future.

What do you think?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is executive vice president for our Canadian partner firm, Thornley Fallis. He is a social media and communications strategist, founder of three PR agencies, blogger at myPALETTE, Inside PR co-host, social media instructor, and former fiction writer, comedy MC, and Winnipegger.


Wonderful blog, Thanks to your nice information and the blog. I like it..........


This guy either took a page from my book or I took a page from his - since I answer to four score and seven I will invoke my octogenarian-al privilege and claim he took a page from my book - go go go!!!! 


Martin, when I read "Start drinking at 10 a.m.", I honestly checked your bio to see if you were a Maritimer ;) 

On a more serious note, I think #3 is brilliant. So few places (agencies or otherwise) get this right. The ones that do have a massive advantage.


You had me at "start drinking at 10 am."

Seriously, I enjoyed your post and appreciate the reminder to "love thy client."

ginidietrich moderator

You were right! I love this! Anything that has to deal with Mad Men I love…though I'm not very happy with Don Draper right now. I did a keynote yesterday on the future of PR and I talked about how many of the big agencies (finally) are bringing all media in-house: Paid, earned, search, and owned. This trend goes to what you're talking about here. It's not about the tools, but about the ideas and how you use them. Bravo!


Great piece.  I fully endorse the idea of drinking at 10. I have found that the more we have fun in the office and just randomly push out OUR use of marketing and social, the more our clients have fun with it. Funny how fun is so contagious isn't it? I even made Gini an unwilling particpant today when I was Vining as part of my blog post on ideas for writers block ;)


I love this Martin! And it's not just because I love Mad Men, but these are great tips. I especially love number 1 and how in the show, they don't focus on the medium that delivers the message. And I think @HeatherTweedy may be onto something...


Oh Martin, remember the early days at the CBC!!?? There were some EPIC parties. ;) I remember dancing with Tony Burman with a scotch in his hand. Good times. I love that today is Future Day on Spin Sucks, with @ginidietrich's post and yours. But I especially loved the idea that sometimes, we really can look backwards, in order to look ahead. Cheers! LB


Great post. Corporate culture plays an important role in the workplace  and there needs to be fire to create new ideas. Everyone can't be yes men


Oh, the politics in the workplace! Why? Why? Why? 

I like what @HeatherTweedy said, "Secondly, if drinking in the workplace came back I think that chemistry would be a much smaller problem."  You could possibly shoot your mouth off and no one would care. ;)

I wonder, though, if some of the silos are related to age and experience as well? Will new silos be created as old ones come down? Regardless, I agree that it will be interesting to watch. 

Great post!


First off, this is already the best season of Mad Men every.  It needed to be said.  :)  Secondly, if drinking in the workplace came back I think that chemistry would be a much smaller problem.  

In regards to the next wave of innovations, I would love to see the barriers between disciplines finally collapse. I loved reading about FleishmanHillard's recent switch.  It will be interesting to see what growing pains they experience as they break down the silos.  

Looking forward to seeing you at CA.  I think I still owe you and Shonali a drink form PRSAIC! 


  1. […] week, I wrote a guest post for Spin Sucks on what Mad Men can teach us about becoming the ad (or PR) agency of the […]

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