Rampant drinking? Check.
Institutionalized sexism? Check.
Office politics? Check.
No, these aren't just the ingredients for a certain television show revolving around an ad agency in the 1960s, but the day to day life of real-life Mad Men. Most advertising folks find that 40 years on, many things around the office remain the same.
The very plotlines that keep viewers glued to episode after episode of the show are what some marketers wake up to every morning. From crazed clients to torrid affairs between senior executives, the hit AMC show Mad Men is rooted in the everyday reality of marketing professionals.
"The three martini lunch has given way to the microbrew afternoon," said Augustine Bille, an accounts manager at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based agency The Engine is Red. The alcohol content may have changed, but drinking remains part of the day to day duties of any marketing pro. People may not ditch the office mid-morning to mix some gin and tonics, but alcohol is "allowed and utilized" in the creative process, he said. Indeed, it's expected.
"If you're not drinking, you better be in AA," said Kent Lewis, president of Portland-based Anvil Media, about the work culture. He recalls one of his colleagues at a prior workplace, who drank vodka "because it had no smell" and regularly "passed out under her desk." She was walked out of the company, moved to Seattle, and changed her name. "She was the Lindsay Lohan of the office," he said.
Theories abound about why drinking is so important in Madison Avenue offices. Some, like Bille, believe it is "a valuable and fun part of the creative process." Without it, he said, you won't produce good work. "The creative juices that drive the engine can be found within shiny glass bottles." In his firm's offices, he said, the fridge is filled with 12 packs of Russian River Brewery's Pliny the Elder beer -- what he calls "million dollar copy."
Others blame it on the fact that ad agencies continue to be male dominated.
Sex and Sexism
The old boys' club of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce remains, in some ways, unchanged. "Unlike PR, advertising is still a man's world, with golf games in the middle of the workday," said Lewis. For most agencies, they are preoccupied with reaching the "consumer dudes," and so they concentrate on employing the same type of people. "Guys will waltz in, play Halo 2 for a few hours, check some emails, and then start work at 4.30 p.m.," he said. "It's the kind of schedule that fits young, single guys better." It is a testosterone-driven, high risk and high reward culture that reminds you more of Wall Street than agency shops. No ad shops or marketing agencies made the cut for Working Mother's 100 Best Companies this year.
Affairs are also common: "It's awkward for everybody," said Lewis, whose own married boss at a former workplace was having an affair, and expected everyone to keep quiet about it. "Everyone's talking behind closed doors, and a lot of productivity is lost."
"Madison Avenue still views the man of the household as the one making purchasing decisions, despite all signs to the contrary," said Kim Garretson, a partner at Minneapolis-based marketing firm Ovative Group, who has worked in the profession for 20 years. Garretson noticed that in every agency he's worked for before his current one, young males made up the majority of the staff.
Clients continue to be demanding and pushy, in the mode of the Lucky Strike client from the series premiere of Mad Men. Garretson recalls one client for whom his agency had to redo an animated short because the socks on the main character were "too short." They spent a month and $80,000 adding three pixels of height to the socks in every scene. "Clients are even smarter than they used to be, so you have to learn that the client is always right, even when he's wrong," he said.
But Garretson's favorite memory is of a client who came armed with great references and sat down with the partners of the agency to proclaim that he'd created a new technology to resurrect the dead -- and wanted them to market it. "That's when you do sidelong glances with your colleagues and you know you've just let a nut job into your office."
The Good Kind of High
But the one positive area in which Mad Men is spot-on is where it depicts the rush, energy and pressure of the marketing profession: what gets its worker bees out of bed every morning. "They've hit that emotion and excitement right on the head," said David Hooper, who runs a music marketing agency. "It's like that Kodak Carousel episode when they know they've just done some amazing work, we feel that every day."
Elizabeth Sklaroff, founder of Denver-based Round Social Marketing agrees: "The amazing pressure of the marketing industry is indispensable, that's why we do this, day in and day out," she said.
Related : How Your Career Is Nothing Like Mad Men
Write to Shareen Pathak