Why Your Brand Shouldn’t Hire Don Draper

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Jeff Zwelling
Jeff Zwelling



Chief Exec OfficerAs a viewer, watching Don Draper and his staff make brilliant, last-second advertising magic on “Mad Men” is thrilling. It builds suspense. It’s mysterious. It’s unexpected. No one wants to watch Don in his monthly budget meeting; intriguing television is watching him pull off a miracle in a bourbon-induced haze.

But intriguing television and effective advertising strategies aren’t the same thing (strange, I know). In the real world of advertising, ensuring that a campaign is successful isn’t as sexy as Draper and company make it appear on TV. Today, successful ads are about more than witty taglines and arresting visuals; they’re about click-through rates and cross-channel conversions, and the only agencies worth partnering with are those that can deliver in those areas as well as in creative. This is the age of big data and analytics, and to pretend that one great idea is enough to power an ad campaign is short-sighted.

So how can a brand be sure it’s signing with a company that’s both creative and reliable? Shaping its request for proposal (RFP) to include both “artistic” and analytical questions is a good place to start. For every question about creative vision, there should be another about measurement, and these questions should span the agency, its media optimization partners and its employees. To start, consider these types of measurement-related questions.



First, it’s important to know the agency’s mission and strategy toward measurement, and how much it’s valued in relation to creative. Ask about how the company measures its success and how it internally qualifies a successful campaign. Then ask in more detail about how it tracks the relationship between creative and lead generation, and about how the agency works across channels: nothing worse than a siloed advertising strategy where various teams end up claiming credit for next month’s incremental revenue. Finally, include a question about which types of attribution and measurement the agency finds most effective and why.


Industry Partners

Many agencies outsource a good chunk of their analytics work. Brands need to know about those partnerships and how effective they are before signing on the dotted line. The initial question needs to be whether the company is working with a marketing optimization provider and if so, which one. From there, find out about the ROI and tangible results the provider delivers to its clients and how it reports them. Lastly, get into the nitty-gritty details, like whether the provider (or the agency) has the capabilities to do things like link data sets across devices and integrate with demand-side platforms that matter to you.



Since the agency’s employees will likely be doing the majority of account work on a day-to-day basis, it’s important to ask about how the whole team treats measurement. Questions to consider include:

  • How does the agency ensure that account executives are focused on client objectives?
  • How are clients’ standards for success integrated into creative efforts?
  • What does the team do to understand how customers interact with online and offline advertising?
  • Do employees accept remuneration from media publishers?


The Bottom Line

As brilliant as he seems on TV, Don Draper types aren’t the best bet for brands seeking ad agency partners (Spoiler alert: let’s not forget that Don is fired at the end of the last season). Though there’s no such thing as guaranteed success in a creative industry like advertising, brands shouldn’t be at the mercy of when the next stroke of genius hits. After all, advertising doesn’t come cheap, and no brand wants to feel like its valuable dollars are going toward an uneven or ineffective approach.

Asking questions like those above – and more – in an RFP is one of the only safeguards a company has against ineffective advertising. Picking an agency is no easy task, and asking about measurement and creative in equal parts is crucial. Agreeing with an agency’s artistic direction and vibe is important, of course, but knowing that it can deliver on those ideas can’t be forgotten.

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