5 Small Business Lessons From Mad Men

The TV series Mad Men on AMC came to my attention very late, season four had ended. The series piqued my attention when a friend mentioned that it was a series on Madison Avenue and the advertising business in the 1960’s.

retro couple

It’s definitely is not an educational series, in fact you could write a long list of things to unlearn from watching. I like to take any educational value I can get from content that I consume and as I got caught up on all four seasons of Mad Men on Netflix, I began to see some lessons that would be useful for business owners from the series:

  • Don’t depend on one customer for all or your major part of your business:  In the episode the newly formed company which is a small business faces the loss of the client “Lucky Strike” brings home the horror of a business losing their biggest customer. Ideally the best strategy could be to continue to get more new customers so that your entire business is not dependent on one customer.
  • Take risks. Don’t be afraid to let a client go under compelling circumstances:  I am not 100% sure about this so I hope you can give me your experiences. In the series when the company decides to go after the business of American Airlines they decide to drop another profitable existing client. If you are a proponent of a “bird in hand is worth two in the bush” then you would be cautious with this.
  • Offline networking and shaking hands is as important today as it was in the 1960’s:  This is important in any decade. I cannot emphasize enough how much I learn when I meet people for breakfast or lunch. Plan on attending networking events of course skip the martinis.
  • Dedicate resources to work on the business development and make it part of everyone’s job:  In one episode the copywriter meets a person from another agency who lost her job and deduces that there is a chance of getting new business and works with an account exec over the weekend to get the new business. Stories like this are perfectly plausible and every employee should be empowered to look for opportunities to get new business.
  • Keep an eye on the bottom line:  I am fascinated in the episodes where the partners seem to know how many more days of payroll and expenses they have money for. It is always a good idea for any business to have a firm grounding on its finances.

Do you agree with my take ways while watching Mad Men?  Or do you feel I should just watch and enjoy the series and not worry about any business lessons that may or may not be derived from it?

Retro Couple Photo via Shutterstock


Shashi Bellamkonda Shashi Bellamkonda is CMO of Surefire Social, AKA "Social Media Swami" at SurefireSocial. Visit Shashi Bellamkonda's blog. He is also an adjunct faculty at Georgetown University. Shashi is a regular contributor to the Washington Business Journal, DC Examiner and other tech blogs like Smallbiztechnology and Techcocktail. Shashi has been in the list of Top 100 Small Business Influencer Champions list for 2011 and 2012.

13 Reactions
  1. Haha, glad you are enjoying it. I also got caught up midstream with Mad Men. Glad to see them finally back on the air.

    I think all the points here are great – especially the one you weren’t too sure about: “Take risks. Don’t be afraid to let a client go under compelling circumstances.”

    Wrapped up into that episode was the chaos between partners because a couple people didn’t see eye to eye on that risk front. However, it all worked out in the end when they picked the company back up later. Which brings another lesson – don’t burn bridges.

    Of course, I suggest you lay back and enjoy all that Mad Men has to offer. I do the same thing, always thinking about a blog post or idea for a client while I am watching TV. BUT – your brain needs some “relax” time. So let it take a breather with Mad Men, it’s a great escape 🙂

    • Hi Amy,

      😉 lol;) Your advice to lay back and enjoy the episodes without thinking of work or business is excellent. Thank you so much for reminding me that there is more to life than work. I am liking Mad Men except for the drinking.


  2. Great article! I agree with all of your points. The one that struck me the most was the second point about taking risks. It’s hard for a small business to say “no” to a customer but you really need to focus on what is going to help your company grow. As a small business with limited resources you really do have to focus on your most profitable, long term customers. Having a targeted marketing strategy is key! Thanks for a well thought out interesting article!

    Lorena Diaz

  3. I agree, but you left out one point: Drink heavily.

  4. I agree that diversifying your income streams is a great lesson to learn, especially for the SMB. I also strongly believe in every member of the team being part of business development. Great takeaways.

  5. I must first say that I’m a huge fan of this show. I have caught myself having inner dialogues that start with “what would Don do?” Then I have to step back and remember the majority of the characters on that show are intoxicated. He he he.

  6. There are special feature in the DVD box set for season 3… I believe, that has the equivalent of “Mad Men business school”.

    I think it is good to take a learning experience in any way you can, if a TV character or a story line enhances some way you look at life or business then they made realistic plot lines and characters.

  7. Love MADMEN! Since advertising is my passion (and my profession) I enjoy the show and takeaway some great insight as well as reminders. Networking offline is truly key to advancing your personal brand and your firm’s. It’s easy for me to appreciate the storyline as entertainment and as sage wisdom (what to do and NOT to do.) Plus it’s renewed interest in an industry I love.