What A Daughter Learned From Her Dad About Working in a “Mad Men” World

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.
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Today is Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which I thought was a lost day but apparently has been re-branded to the more gender-neutral “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.”  Upon discovering that I happened to select this day for one of my blogposts during the year my dad retires, this post seemed destined for something a little different.  I hope you’ll indulge me.

When I am downtown Minneapolis, I am often reminded about dad & daughter days at the office – and there were many more visits other than just the fourth Thursday in April.

For much of the time, “dad’s office” was one of Minneapolis’ “Mad Men” agencies in the 1980s & 1990s. There were lavish parties (even for us kids), a classic Porsche installed in the office lobby with a crane before the building was finished, free fountain soda(!), free magazine subscriptions, typewriters where I would practice my keystrokes on envelopes for Kelly and Marti – and incredibly talented people proudly doing creative for a really spectacular list of clients.  The picture below is from an Adweek story in 1992 (I’m credited simply as “daughter”), and it is one of my favorite pictures of me and my hipster, bike-commuting father.   The gavel on the legal pad also is an eerie foreshadowing of “collaborations in creativity and the law.”

Friends routinely ask me if I watch Mad Men, and they often draw parallels between the show and their perceptions about scotch-drinking lawyers.  My answer is “I did at first, but it hits a little too close to home.”  From a young age, I saw the fast-paced, cutthroat environment of the ad agency world.  In real life, these are people who say things like “it’s not enough to be the winner, there also has to be a loser,” as if they are in a court battle. I watched and overheard stories about people who lived the Mad Men lifestyle, and I saw the real consequences of that life.  If my dad were not the man that he is, my life easily could have been much different, as Mad Men reminds me. I am grateful for the experiences of observing my dad at work. Dad taught me a lot about working in a fast-paced, “Mad Men” world – without being Don Draper. Here are a few things that I’ve learned:

  • Family always comes first.  
    Whenever my sister or I would call my dad’s office and my dad was in a meeting, apparently my dad would abruptly end the meeting to call us back and then reconvene.
  • Anytime you put your brand on something, it should be done thoughtfully, with purpose, and without editing.  
    My dad has been known to be a bit of a “logo cop.”  He ensures brands are used consistently and demands excellence in effort.  It takes years of effort to build a strong brand, and one small misstep to set it back.  This goes not only for your client’s brand, but for your company and your own personal brand.
  • Never sacrifice your principles for your paycheck.  
    One of the things that I admire about my dad is his integrity and his willingness to always do what he believes is in the best interest of the company or others, even if it is unpopular.  My dad once told his boss that he would never work on campaigns for cigarettes or for gambling (at least that’s how I remember it – maybe this was really a lesson in disguise about how to avoid being grounded for life).  I’m not sure whether Don Draper really had any principles to sacrifice, and he certainly needed the Lucky Strike campaign.
  • Understand that you and those you work with probably have been “raised by wolves” at some point. 
    My dad is fond of saying that he was “raised by wolves,” for instance after leaving the fast-paced ad agency lifestyle for a marketing director position on Main Street in Red Wing.  We are all products of our experiences, and inevitably in a high pressure work environment like the creative world or the legal one, you pick up certain “skills.”  You know, like not wanting to use a seemingly dead language in every brief.  That prior training may lead to some conversations that may not be well received, or some decisions that may make more less than others.  Understanding that they may have been raised by wolves, you can move past the puffery and get to real solutions.

In a few weeks, the only office of my dad’s that I will be visiting will be his office in the basement at my parents’ home (well, and Target Field) — but maybe we’ll soon have to create a Take Our Dad to Work Day.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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