The final series of Mad Men kicks off on AMC in the US on Sunday. 

The box set should be required watching for anyone that works in an agency. It’s packed with insight on creativity, talent, management, and life itself.

I’m looking forward to watching the final series of Mad Men, and here are some of my favourite lessons from the previous six series.

1. Planning and the importance of emotional insight

Don Draper:

There is a rare occasion that the public can be engaged on a level beyond a flash – if they have a sentimental bond with a product.

Successful campaigns are based on listening to your audiences or publics, drawing out an emotional insight and engaging with a compelling creative idea.

See Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. Everything else is noise.

2. Entrepreneurs

Bobbie Barrett:

This is America. Pick a job and become the person that does it.”

Running an agency requires a clear purpose and lots of confidence. The very best are a well-mixed and balanced cocktail of account management, creativity and execution excellence.

3. Making money

Roger Sterling:

Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people’s names before I fire them.

Margin is a matter of self-respect. Staff to fee ratio should never exceed 55% and overhead 25%.

Less is better. Growth isn’t an option. It is critical to create energy and opportunity within an agency.

4. Reality of the agency business

Don Draper:

The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.

Nurture client relationships and never ever underestimate the talent of suits.

Account management is the heartbeat of a good agency relationship.

5. The creative process

Don Draper:

Peggy, just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will jump in your face.

Agencies spend huge amounts of money on creative spaces to disguise dull offices.

Soaking up data and heading outdoors to explore the natural environment would almost certainly be a better source of inspiration.

6. But everyone thinks they’re a creative

Don Draper:

Sterling Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.

Everyone thinks they can design and write and everyone has a point of view on creative work.

Follow your agency’s planning process and respect the expertise of your colleagues. They’re professionals. 

7. Every client is your only client

Roger Sterling:

We have no other clients!

Agencies are only as good as their client relationships and their last job. The best agency/client relationships, like in life, are based on cooperation, respect and transparency. 

8. Don’t feed the monsters

Roger Sterling:

We created a monster.

Salaries inflate when there’s a shortage of skills. It’s happening right now in areas of digital. Agencies pay to retain key talent.

It creates monsters that are disruptive and impossible to manage.

9. Equality

Bobbie Barrett:

You’re never going to get the corner office until you start treating Don as an equal. […] You can’t be a man. Don’t even try. Be a woman.

There aren’t enough men in entry level positions in many agencies and there aren’t enough women in senior roles in almost all agencies.

This is the biggest single talent issue facing the agency business. 

10. Work/life balance

Stan Rizzo:

You work your ass off for months, bite your nails, for what? Heinz… baked… beans.

The best agencies turn out incredible work that delivers significant business return.

Have fun and do the best work that you possibly can, and if you can’t, find another job.