What Mad Men Can Teach Us About Meetings

What Mad Men Can Teach Us About Meetings

Jun 8, 2017 by David Ratliff Comments (1)

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A genuine fictional interview conducted by David Ratliff with Don Draper on May 24th, 2017. Don Draper is the Creative Director at Sterling Cooper, a fictional advertising agency from the Mad Men television show. David Ratliff is a member of USAID’s Collaborating, Learning and Adapting (CLA) Team and has a mostly fictional title--He Man, Master of the CLA Universe 

David: Hi Don. First of all I’m a huge fan and just want to thank you for doing this interview.

Don: My pleasure. Do you mind if I smoke?

Donald Draper

David: Not at all. Let’s pour some of that bourbon as well. First off, I’d love to know how you approach meetings.

Don: To me, meetings are a place for creativity, discussion, and working together to actually get something done. In advertising it’s all about the idea and the pitch. We have strict deadlines so we have to generate ideas quickly, continually adapt those ideas and refine them into a pitch for the client. It’s probably similar to your design process in development. But, I guess we’re lucky in the sense that we don’t have all the fancy computers and technology that you have today. We have much more face to face time between people in the office and meetings are actually the way we work, not just a place where we share information. We work together to create something. 

David: That’s great. Can you talk a little bit about how the meetings actually work? Take us inside your world. How do you actually collaborate? 

Don: It’s always best to start from the goal. What it is that you are working towards and how is the meeting going to help move the team towards the goal. Everyone on the team needs to know what the objective is and be on board with getting there. One meeting isn’t going to get you from start to finish. Our first meeting for a new concept development usually starts with some brainstorming. We can quickly generate some ideas, discuss whether they might work, and by the end of the meeting have one or two ideas that we can take to the next stage. 

David: What happens next?

Don: From there smaller teams will work through an idea, adapt it, refine it, and bring it back to present at the next meeting. In the meantime we’re always trying to learn more about the product that we’re selling and imagine how customers might react to the idea. At some point we put together a focus group so we can further test, adapt and refine the idea until we get it where it needs to be. These processes all happen within meetings or smaller working group meetings as the team works together to make it happen. There are definitely some late nights with lots of cigarettes and coffee that get us to the finish line.

David: How do you as the leader manage the process and culture within the meeting?

Don: You have to create the type of environment where people feel free to share and provide honest feedback. But, feedback needs to be impersonal. It needs to be about the idea and not about the person with the idea. I’ve learned that the hard way over the years, and depending on the personality involved, still find myself occasionally in conflicts because I lose sight of the idea itself. Everyone on the team has a different personality and it really helps to know them well, understand how they might react, and approach them in a way that will inspire and motivate them to do better. They also need to understand me as a leader and how I like things done.

David: Is there anything else you wanted to add? Maybe about relationship building?

Don: In advertising relationships are everything. But, I think the same could be said for every field. Since we spend so much time together we tend to know each other pretty well. We also do a lot with the clients--dinner, drinks and other social events. I can’t tell how how many deals we’ve closed because of all the extra effort really getting to know who our clients are. And those late nights also help us come together as a team. The bourbon doesn’t hurt either!

David: Thanks Don. It’s been a pleasure. Let’s break out those cigars and have another drink!

Don Draper’s Top 10 Tips for Successful Meetings

  1. Be on point: have a goal and make sure everyone is on board
  2. Co-create: Use the meeting to work together, not just share information
  3. Smaller is better: Get the right people to attend, don’t just invite people to be nice
  4. Don’t leave it hanging: If you have a complex topic make sure to schedule extra time to get everything done.
  5. Take no hostages: If someone tries to derail the meeting or hijack the agenda, shut them down and take back the meeting.
  6. Don’t waste people’s time: If you schedule an hour, make sure to end on time. See Rule #4 if confused.
  7. No distractions: Cut out the phone calls and other annoying technology that can take your team’s focus away from the objective.
  8. The meeting isn’t a one off event: A meeting should be a step in the process of moving closer to a goal, not the goal itself.
  9. People matter: Don’t forget that the team is composed of different personalities. You need to understand them and they need to understand you.
  10. Don’t forget the bourbon: Nothing helps build a team like a little social lubricant!


Great suggestions, David! My favorite of the tips is "People Matter." :-)

In case folks want even more on this topic, here's a helpful resource from the NYT a couple of months back on how to run effective meetings.

posted 3 years ago