Believe it or not, I'm finally getting around to watching Mad Men. It must be the Aquarian in me that has a hard time jumping on band wagons that are already filled-up. Or, maybe I'm too instant gratification to wait week to week for a new episode.
Anyway, I must admit that most of the show leaves me bored - with the exception of the insider's eye into The Suits vs. The Creatives. "The Wheel" - the final episode (#13) from Season One was nothing short of brilliant. Don Draper's ability (or writer Matthew Weiner's) to nail the essential characteristic of renaming Kodak's 'wheel' into the 'carousel' - not to mention the pitch that went with it - were so on the mark that I actually shed a tear because of its authenticity.
Mad Men may cover advertising, but it's relevance for P.R. is unmistakable - even though Suits vs. Creatives generally doesn't have a true parallel. The two roles - equally important and necessary - are essentially opposite. It's well-known that P.R. budgets are much less than advertising budgets, so it's not surprising that P.R. agencies didn't have the money to support a Suit and a Creative on a piece of business. I think it's part of the reason why the role of a creative director in a P.R. agency is cyclical. When money's around, agencies hire Creatives. When it's not around, the roles are absorbed in the account teams. It's too bad: I think it negatively affects the business both day-to-day and long term.
The role of the Creative is to develop the Big Idea. Based on the insights into the research, the Creative doesn't necessarily go forward as much as go forward by changing direction.
A primary role of a Suit is to listen to the client. They know everything there is to know about a client and their business. But a Creative's job is slightly more: yes, it means listening to the client, but it also means not listening to the client because the more you know about something, the more conservative you are. A good Creative can't be both conservative and imaginative. Where the Suit fights for the Client, the Creative fights for the Idea. That's why there's a natural anomisity - this is fine, as long as it's professional and not personal.
That's why I think there's a negative cast-off in P.R. because the roles are so different that it's hard for a Suit to effectively play Creative and vice versa. How can a Suit (the only one who bills hours) be risk-free and risk-full at the same time? Someone interviewed me in Sydney last month and asked what the most difficult part of the job was. Easily, it was standing up for the Idea when no one else would. In my mind, right or wrong, the Idea is what makes an agency profitable because it's pro-active, where billing hours is re-active because based on what you've already done.
Anyway, that's my Friday afternoon riff. If there's one thing about Mad Men that makes me sad, it's that P.R. deserves it's own true-to-life television series. Absolute Power on the BBC was good but more tilted toward public affairs. Samantha Jones on Sex & The City is cited a lot, but she was a publicist - nothing wrong with that - but it's not necessarily a full perspective of P.R.
As the saying goes, sometimes P.R. needs its own P.R.