It’s rare that something gets me right from the off. I am a slow burn with many things, trust needs to be built, before I decide if I like something. I am what you might call a complex character.
However, this was not the case 15 years ago as I sat down to watch the first episode of a new TV series, which was just starting. It’s been 15 years this week, since Mad Men first aired on TV screens across the world.
The music started, the man walks into the office, then the drums kick in, the man starts to fall, and then the pan out, to the back of a man sat down, staring into the distance cigarette in hand.
OK, this looks interesting, this looks different. I am in.
Just over half an hour later and I am hooked, who is this guy Donald Draper!? What the hell is this Advertising world they are all part of?! I thought advertising was just brand sponsorship that was put on things to make us buy more of those things. Who the hell drinks so much during their work day?!
Then it happened, the show is building toward the episode climax, and bang……….
‘Advertising is based on one thing………happiness.’
The line hit me like a lightning bolt, I loved it, and I loved this show. This line has gone on to be one of many Don Draper famous lines, but I was hooked. The show would go on to be a global success, and for the following 91 episodes, over 7 series, I did not miss a minute of it. Once it was finished, I bought the box set, and binged it again. I told friends, colleagues, and family members about it. Some got it, and loved it, others did not see what the big deal was, but I was hooked.
This would become more than just a TV show for me, don’t get me wrong, as a show I loved it, and I have many a favourite seen, from Don shouting ‘that’s what the money is for!’ at Peggy, which I often dreamt of saying to people who I worked with. To the creative genius of watching the characters come up with great ideas. The episode where Paul Kinsey finally ‘gets the idea,’ only to wake up the next morning, having not written it down, and it’s gone. Walking into Don, expecting the worst, Paull explains what has happened, only for Don to show the first ever sign of empathy with the line, ‘I hate it when that happens.’ Jumping forwards to when Don, Roger, Burt, and Lain quit to build their own breakaway agency, to the many, many times I would watch one of the best characters in the show, Pete Campbell make a mess of most things. I loved all of it. Oh, and don’t get me started on the final episode, best ending to a series ever?! Debate at your will.
So, you can see I am a fan, but what has this got to do with business, what has this got to do with Digital 51, and what has this got to do with you?
Well for me Mad Men as I mentioned was not just a TV show, it opened a world I had never heard of, or seen before. It’s fair to say that at my classic northern comprehensive school (which I loved by the way,) they were not preparing their young adults for a career in advertising. Engineering, hair, beauty, and trades was very much the flavour of the day for me and my classmates. So even though by the point I first watched Mad Men, I was very much in a professional role and organisation; working in a bank, then starting to do well in recruitment. I still did not know what advertising was.
Mad Men sent me off on a journey to learn, read, watch, listen, and consume everything I could about advertising. I have always been the curious type, I like to understand how things work, and where they come from, but even more so if I am interested. With advertising I was. I went on to read Confessions of a Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy, who many believe the show was based on. This led me to further books; Ogilvy on Avertising, Mad Men and Bad Men, Get Smashed, Up the Agency, and anything I could find on Saatchi and Saatchi, as I found the brothers and their agency fascinating. It wasn’t just books though, it was podcasts, and social media. I remember during the 7th and final series when McCann Erickson was bought into the mix in the role of the big, bad agency, their social team posting live responses to a TV show. It was genius, I loved it!
Yes, I followed the cliches too; I can remember the first ever time I ordered an Old Fashioned at the Hard Days Night Hotel in Liverpool. I had to go somewhere completely different to my normal watering holes in the hope they would know what the drink was! They did, and I stood looking slightly nervous, as it took 10 minutes to make, the bartender mixing the sugar in by hand. I was hooked on those little bad boys from there on in too, scouring London, and the world, for the best Old Fashioned.
I remember adding pocket squares to my suits, pretending my ever-increasing work-wear wardrobe, which was becoming an even more expensive habit than the Old Fashion’s, was not the act of a grown man, being inspired by a TV show. It very much was though.
I remember thinking why do Don, and Peggy go to the cinema so much during the working day. So I went to the cinema, during the working day. As a follower of the rules, I turned off my phone, and I realised when I came out all I felt was dread in-case anyone had noticed I was skiving! They did not, so I tried it again, this time without the guilt, and I realised the distraction was a good thing. Over time this would become a saviour for me, probably my first exposure to the realisation I need headspace to be at my best. It’s something I still do to this day. Only two weeks ago today, if you were looking for me at 1pm, you would have had to go to a small local cinema to catch me watching Top Gun 2, Maverick saves the day again! It worked, it cleared my head, the ideas started rolling.
Most importantly, Mad Men inspired my career, whether it be validation and support of my work ethic via something as silly as a TV show, to developing a passion. This ultimately led me to Digital Gurus in 2020. I wanted to join an Agency, Agency. A recruitment business, that had a history in the Advertising, Creative, Digital, and Communications Agency space. I was lucky enough to be at the point in my career that I could pick where I worked, and what type of business they were. This was me being selfish, this was me joining a London first Agency which was founded by someone who also loved Mad Men, and had gone on to build a recruitment agency out of it. I have said many times, but I loved it, I loved DG, and I loved ‘Agency life.’
Unfortunately, that relationship was cut short, and changed by Covid, as I made the decision to leave 12 months after joining. However, this forced me to finally put my money where my mouth is, and build my own Recruitment Agency, which would have an Ad Agency focus. Granted Agency life is not the biggest part of our offering, the success of all things Product dominates Digital 51, but Creative, and Agency work lives hard and strong at the heart of our offering. We don’t specialise in a certain type of Agency, and that is something I wish we did, but the problem is, I like them all!
The first 10 placements Digital 51 made were all in Agencies, ranging from E-commerce agencies, to digital, creative, and the ever busy, PR agencies. Agency is the area of the business I still represent and recruit into every-day. It’s my absolute passion, and nothing gets me more excited than going to see an Agency, walking through their doors, and getting that Agency buzz. For a small minute I feel part of their world, and then I get to hear all about their world, and how I can support, and influence that through hiring. I am so lucky to recruit into something that fascinates me. All from a TV show. I love it.
I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since Mad Men was on our screens, where has the time gone?! I know it was only a TV show, and for many people who work in the industry, they can be offended if you think their world is ‘just like Mad Men.’ That’s not how I see it, the show sparked a passion, and 13 years later that passion finally led me to start the journey to where I am now.
So tonight, I plan on toasting the end of another great, long, and adventurous week at Digital 51 with one of my now famous home-made Old Fashion’s.
Here’s to you Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; thanks for everything!
This article was written by Simon Brown, Founder of Digital 51, and advocate of all things Agency. Did you love Mad Men, has a TV show ever inspired you? If so, drop Simon a line on and tell him more!