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Bigger Isn’t Better: Mad Men Season 6, Episode 6

This week’s Mad Men opens with intoxicating talk of an IPO for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This brings out the worst in nearly all of them.

When personal greed comes in, client interests are soon forgotten.

An agency focused on cashing out is not an agency focused on client success.

Don inadvertently torpedoes the IPO when he resigns a client. This particular client happens to be a snake and should never have been allowed to slither into the agency in the first place. This is a rare righteous moment for Don.

So, now the agency’s hopes turn to winning a much bigger client. But why?

Bigger clients are not better clients. Bigger agencies are not better agencies.

In order to do this, Don realizes that a merger with another agency is necessary. There is no discussion of whether this is a good thing for existing agency clients. There is no exploration of what this may mean for the culture the agency has built. The Chevy account is the Holy Grail and they will sacrifice everything to get it.

This is about as true as fiction gets. This bigger-is-better disease is almost universal in agencies. Smaller agencies think they are just temporarily embarrassed bigger ones. If they love their clients at all, they love them provisionally, as steppingstones to the big time.
Lust for a huge “exit” is certainly part of it, but that only affects the few who benefit from such events. The larger issue is herd instinct. Your mother knows what Microsoft is, and she doesn’t yet know Warby Parker. Enormous budgets make for better answers at cocktail parties. “Yes, you’ve seen my commercials.”

It’s about trading up. People trade up jobs, spouses, clients.

We’ve long since committed to the road less traveled. We choose clients based on their promise, not their past. We look for growth, not for mass. We grow with our clients, not out of them. We see them as pillars, not steppingstones. We run a business that is successful in creating value for clients, owners, employees and collaborators today, rather than planning for some future exit.

As a result, we’re able to devote nearly all our energy, passion, hopes, creativity and time to building our clients brands and organizations.

Are we naïve? We’re happy. And, this week we celebrated 17 years.

Here’s to the next 17 and beyond!