Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mad Men vs Patroclus: The Copywriting Smackdown

As time's wingèd chariot bundles inexorably towards the onset of my maternity leave, I find myself wondering what I'm going to do with the acres of free time I'm going to have for the next three months or so.

(What? Surely changing nappies and breastfeeding can't take up 24 hours of the day, every day! That would be madness!)

I'm gingerly testing the waters of the imminent lifestyle change by stepping up my television viewing. Not real, as-broadcast television, we don't have that at the moment, but DVDs and stuff.

And what better place to start than with Mad Men, a programme that not only is 'the nearest to genius television can get' (Metro), but in which several of the protagonists also have the same job as me - to wit, advertising copywriters.

This is where the similarities between me and the dramatis personae of Mad Men end, though, because after having viewed six episodes of Season One, I can confirm that there are some significant and probably insuperable differences in our working lives. Allow me to enumerate.

1. Office. The Mad Men office is chock-full of rich young men-about-town, the occasional silver fox and a horde of impeccably-coiffed fashionable secretarial ladies, all of whom spend their working day smoking, drinking cocktails, ravishing each other in well-appointed hotel rooms and making barbed comments about each other's dress sense, literary achievements, etc. In my office there's just me and the cat, and the cat is definitely the better groomed.

2. Client Meetings. In Mad Men, all client meetings go on for five minutes and unfold in exactly the same manner: the advertising team (who are all hungover) tell the client they don't have any ideas, the client gets a bit miffed, one of the advertising team berates the client for being female/stupid/Jewish/out of touch, and the client storms out in a huff. Later, someone has to save the account either by taking the client out to a strip club, or by sleeping with them, or both. By contrast, my client meetings are all at least an hour long, involve very long, very tedious powerpoint presentations littered with technical jargon and three letter acronyms, and end with the client requesting that I find some kind of common lexical ground between a photo of some peas and the notion of activity-based costing, which moreover must be expressed in a 'punchy' and 'compelling' fashion.

Fig. 1: Copywriting in the 1960s. Note reclining position, lack of clothes, absence of laptop, etc.

3. Desk. The desks in Mad Men are furnished with a) a phone, b) an ashtray, c) a bottle of spirits and a number of elegant spirit glasses. My desk is furnished with a) a phone, b) a printer, c) a laptop, d) several vast, unwieldy piles of printed-out powerpoint slides littered with technical jargon, three-letter acronyms and scrawled notes about 'key messages' and 'calls to action', e) any number of unfinished cups of peppermint tea, f) the cat, g) clumps of discarded cat fur, h) a leaflet about breastfeeding, i) dust, j) crumbs and k) a load of pens that I stole off the lovely Mr BC and promptly lost the tops of.

4. Office Hierarchy. In Mad Men, the copywriters (who are all men) have fashionably-attired lady secretaries to type up their copy (although I've yet to see anyone really produce any copy) while they set about playing practical jokes on each other, drinking whisky and ravishing successions of women in well-appointed hotel rooms. I, on the other hand, spend my day not only thinking of copy, but also typing it up on the typey-typey keyboard and emailing it to the client. Yes! I am living proof that women can think as well as type, something that in 1960s New York was apparently unheard of. On the downside, very little ravishing goes on in my office, possibly because I am eight months up the duff. (Yes! I am living proof that a woman can think, be pregnant and type all at the same time, despite what Theo Paphitis would have you believe.)

5. Remuneration. Despite the dubious business model outlined in point 2 above, the directors and account directors in Mad Men are all filthy rich and able to afford summer houses in the Hamptons, expensive clothes, successions of mistresses for ravishing in well-appointed hotel rooms, etc. Curiously, despite spending most of my working day actually working, as opposed to bitching and drinking cocktails, I have a lower salary than some of my teacher chums and a wardrobe composed almost entirely of cast-offs from eBay. (Despite this, my Granny has taken to informing her friends that since going freelance I've become 'a millionaire again', but that's a story for another time.)

So there you have it: Mad Men 1, Patroclus 0. Anyone fancy a martini?


Jayne said...

since going freelance I've become 'a millionaire again', but that's a story for another time

Say what now? I demand this story asap.

I couldn't get on with Mad Men. Everybody irritated me too much and I only lasted about 4 episodes.

As far as working models go I find The Wire (aka The Best Thing In The World Ever™) more closely related to my job in publishing. Office politics. Political politics. Swearing. Drugs (RSI and back pain rather than illegal but still). Drink. More drink. Murder (ok, in my head rather than reality but man, if we didn't have gun laws in this country). Even more drink.

Get the box sets. It'll give you something to do in the acres of free time you'll have between a little light nappy changing and breastfeeding. Plus it'll give the Blue Kitten a chance to absorb what the real world is like and she'll be well prepared for her first day at nursery.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

Your mistake, you see, is being a copywriter in the Noughties, not the Sixties. And being a wimmin. Because if you were a Sixties male copywriter (or ad exec - I think a lot of the more shaggy/drinky/fun having ones in that show are on the execy side), it would no doubt be *ezzakly* like that. TV doesn't lie.

Also, may I suggest Gilmore Girls for your viewing pleasure?

cello said...

You need the TV for the duration of the time you're breast-feeding(it takes an age), mainly to try and prevent yourself falling asleep and dropping the baby on the carpet.

Any moment not oocupied holding the baby you will be sleeping, eating and - very occasionally - keeping yourself clean and clothed.

Couldn't get on with Mad Men; all the smoke made me feel itchy and a bit dirty.

rach said...

I spent the first three months watching series one of Green Wing. Might as well inculcate a love of Alan Statham at an early age...

Anonymous said...

I'd like a TV show about my profession.

Actually I wouldn't, it would be rubbish.

Anonymous said...

if tv becomes too demanding for your post-birth, addled little brain (thanks, theo!), you could always try spider solitaire. i love it, and i have no brain at all.
re mad men - they don't seem to have any biscuits whatsoever - not even rich tea. mad men - 0, patroclus - 1.

Dave said...

Father Ted is exactly like my working life.

Boz said...

I'm about to go and ravish a Twix in the kitchenette. Does this count?

Tim Footman said...

My life is a cross between Shelley and Duty Free, but since nobody will admit to remembering either of those sitcoms, I can retain an air of inscrutability.

(And I read 3 [k] as "a load of penis" but I blame that on an unfamiliar laptop.)

janey33 said...

My working life is like an episode of "ER", but without the hunky doctors or babe nurses. We do have a lot of drunks though, my drug room in A&E has a cupboard full of half bottles of vodka that we've taken from the patients. (Tim, I'm old enough to remember both of those shows. I'm guessing you spend your life in an airport lounge, eying up your friend's wife, while sighing philosophically and drinking a lot?)
Patroclus, make the most of any adult tv while you can. You are going to be condemned to spend the rest of your waking life watching Teletubbies and Tweenies, then shouty american cartoons, then shouty american teenage shows and finally, and worst of all, High School Musical VIII, complete with dvd, cd, lunchbox, duvet set and dolls. It's not pregnancy that gives us Theo-syndrome, it's kids tv. (Although obviously, Bob the Builder is a shining example of childrens' programming and should be compulsory viewing for everyone!)

Del said...

They should make a TV show based on your. It would be betterer. And I really liked Mad Men.

9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

I disappointed that there is much less ravishing in real-life advertising.

I had thought there was at least one occupation outside of politics that was all about the elegant cocktails and ravishing.

Oh well.