What People At McCann Think About MAD MEN
* Trigger Warning / Spoiler Alert / Caution, We’re Going To Talk MAD MEN Now *
After watching the third-to-last episode of “Mad Men,” in which our friends from Sterling Cooper Whatever They’re Calling It These Days (RIP) make the move over to the new corporate mothership McCann Erickson, and Joan in particular is terrorized by the company’s chauvinistic bro culture, I became possessed by a desire to know how actual employees of the actual ad agency perceive the show.
McCann has been showrunner Matthew Weiner’s shorthand for a soulless monstrosity since Season 1. It’s a “sausage factory,” the entity against which Don Draper and his merry (wo)men define themselves, a place that exists to remind the viewer that, however flippantly and offensively minorities and women may be treated at Sterling Cooper, other ad agencies are worse. “Mad Men’s” negativity does not seem to have affected McCann’s business, though:
Was the decision to redesign five floors of a Midtown Manhattan high-rise related to the company’s depiction as overly staid on Mad Men? “Absolutely not,” says Linus Karllson, McCann’s chief creative officer of global brands at the time. But he acknowledges that the workplace “wasn’t necessarily as inspiring as it needed to be.” …
Since McCann renovated 107,500 square feet on five floors in 2013, it has found that its new interiors serve it well. The agency noted that the design, fostering collaboration, flexibility, and spontaneity, improved its business record in 2014: it won a significant number of pitches to potential clients, including Microsoft, and earned over $150 million in revenue, a 15 percent increase over the prior year’s approximate $130 million. With new clients including Cigna, Jose Cuervo, and Lockheed Martin, the agency reports the number of employees also increased last year, by 21 percent. Now its New York office is expanding to two more floors. The firm has not lost its sense of history, but it is looking ahead—beyond Mad Men.
Indeed, the firm has been very savvy about dealing with its pop culture alter ego.
It has maintained its sense of humor. In 2009 it released this video supercut, welcoming Sterling Cooper employees to the dark side:
This season, as Ad Age reports, “McCann made ID cards for Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan and Pete ahead of the show’s return, along with a welcome sign in the agency’s common area.”
The company’s PR team has also deployed Twitter to good effect:
As McCann’s (fictional) sexist reps completely dismissed Joan and Peggy in the midseason premiere, for example, the agency posted on Twitter: “This meeting is so awkward. Our apologies on a purely theoretical basis. #MadMen”
As the season progressed, the shop posted a photo of Darth Vader and joked, “Hey guys. It’s not so bad here! #MadMen.”
After “Lost Horizon,” the agency answered a Twitter inquiry from a Daily Beast reporter by saying, “Hi @eshire. What do you want to know? We’re kinda busy subjugating our new staff.”
Well, I wanted answers too, and ideally not from the PR flacks. I put out a call on social media and Linked In and managed to connect, at last, with a woman who worked at McCann in New York for five years. We’ll call her Amy. She was gracious enough to answer a couple of questions for me.
McCann has been singled out as the enemy since “Mad Men” Season 1. As the AV Club puts it, “the McCann depicted on Mad Men is a soulless, misogynistic hell where creativity goes to die.” Can you tell me how fair you think that depiction is, at least in terms of what McCann is like these days? How are female and minority employees treated? Was there a sexual harassment policy, for example, that you recall?
I’ve been watching Mad Men since the very beginning and am so sad to see the show end. I feel like I’ve grown up with the characters! I worked at McCann for about 5 years, I started my account management career there as an AAE and worked my way up. I learned so much at McCann, but McCann was definitely huge and churned out people pretty quickly. There were always new people, new leaders and new accounts. Creatively, I’d say we weren’t the most creative, daring, exciting agency. Creatives got their starts there and left for other agencies, but there were a lot of creative ‘lifers.’ But we were one of the biggest and had huge accounts — giving us all the resources we ever wanted.
As far as female and minority employees go — we definitely had sexual harassment policies and everything HR managed under-the-sun. The agency is owned by IPG now. I was so angry and felt so bad for Joan. She worked too hard to get to McCann where a bunch of sexist jerks took away her accounts.
Did or do any McCann people have strong opinions about how they’re portrayed on the show, do you know? Does anyone think the depiction is unfair?
I actually had put this question out on FB a few weeks ago and no one seemed to have strong opinions how McCann was portrayed in either way — or certainly not a strong opinion that they were portrayed unfairly.