Mad Men Advertising: Jobs Then & Now

Key Takeaways
Advertising agencies have changed dramatically since the Mad Men era of the 1960s. But we can still create with a drink in our hands.

The advertising and marketing world has changed significantly over the years, from the Mad Men era on Madison Avenue to today.

We’ve been binge-watching the series Mad Men through its final season. And we think it gave the advertising industry an interesting angle from the 1960s perspective.

Not only has the advertising and marketing landscape changed, but the mediums and marketing channels of the digital age paved the way for a new creative revolution.

Advertising meets the internet and wedding bells ring.

When the advertising industry met internet advertising in the early 2000s, digital media began to take over print and television. The ad campaigns of the Mad Men era became viewed less and less on billboards, radio, newspapers, and magazines.

Instead, the advertising industry shifted to internet advertising, using mobile technology, text, videos, websites, and software to market their products and services.

In the past decade, another wave of the digital revolution crests and breaks in the form of social media advertising.

The first social media sites were introduced, and the birth of smartphones ushered in the beginning of a wider range of platforms and social networking.

Evolving Roles in Ad Agencies

How marketing has changed over the years

In thriving creative environment of New York in the 1950s and 60s, the main source of advertising ideas, stronger relationships with colleagues, and more closed deals were parties.

And drinking.

The Mad Men executives’ strategy to work hard, play hard (if not harder) has been around longer than we can imagine.

Working in an ad agency, even today, is fun living in a start-late, stay-late, fast-paced agency life.

Mad Men also gives contrast regarding the roles of the individuals who work in ad agencies today vs. back then.

As the years passed, agencies observed more and more changes in how they work. Compared to the time of Mad Men, ad agencies nowadays have greater access to professional development tools, free or low-cost.

Also, we can easily get certificates through online courses.

The convenience of technology also paved changes in job duties and responsibilities then and now.

Before, executives and managers used to have a lot of secretaries to help them organize their schedules and work.

However, as technology provided us with organizing and scheduling tools, we no longer feel the need to hire tons of secretaries to help us get through a busy workday.

This way, agencies can save money on labor while remaining productive and efficient.

Another big change from the period of Mad Men to now is how we slowed down our fast-paced agency lives.

But we still play hard, just not during work hours.

Human resources prioritized health and welfare in the workplace, banning smoking inside the office and saying no to office drinking (except during office parties, of course).

So, in today’s marketing agencies, you won’t have to deal with a boss or workmate who has had at least ten cocktails before lunchtime!

The advertising business now offers a career path for both men and women. Society is more inclusive and open to diversity, honoring the contribution women have made in the advertising industry since the Mad Men era.

Advertising jobs then and now

Roger Sterling

Then: Head of Accounts and Partner

Back then, Roger Sterling would have had to help manage the larger, more prestigious accounts — Lucky Strike, Mohawk Airlines, and Jaguar.

Now: He would be a partner alone. Today a partner wouldn’t have as much involvement but would make occasional appearances when necessary.

To be more specific, the modern Roger Sterling would become a partner in holding companies. He still gets to manage people, just not that very much hands-on.

Don Draper

Then: Creative Director

He started from lower roles and worked his way to becoming the best creative director in the Mad Men era.

Now: It would stay pretty much the same. Don Draper would continue his duties as a creative director, though he may not be attending client lunches and vacations as much as Don Draper did.

Certainly not drink as much!

The audience watched how his creative director role evolved. We could see him change from a director who would make demands left and right to someone who lets his creative team roam free.

Many of us can relate to his character, as we usually witness this type of development in real life.

We can see how managers adapt to their working environment and the team over the course of their time together. Some develop bad habits. But they often develop best practices that focus on improving each team member’s productivity.

Peggy Olson

Then: Copywriter

Peggy Olson was considered an anomaly in her field in the 60s because she was a woman. It was rare for a woman to make it past their secretary’s desk during that time.

Now: This would essentially stay the same now as well.

In today’s world, you have far more gender diversity regarding copywriting. Also, you need a wide range of copywriting skills to advance as a copywriter in today’s internet advertising era — from social to email to print.

Modern copywriters can learn these skills from various resources such as self-help blogs and sites to online courses and videos on YouTube.

In today’s world, you can become a copywriter even without formal education as long as you’ve got the grit and, of course, your pen and paper like Peggy.

Pete Campbell

Then: Account Executive

Back then, the account executive would wine and dine clients and help sell new business. The team would take care of tactical work, and their role was minimal beyond knowing what was going on to foster a healthy client relationship.

Back then, they didn’t have project managers at all!

Now: Account Managers

Account managers do a lot. Most of them these days are also project managers OR have a project manager helping them.

Account people, as we like to call them, need to possess certain skills in managing the team throughout the project.

They’re creative, yet still objective in determining the crucial aspects of the task. However, despite all this knowledge, account executives still like to get everyone involved.

They are willing to hear what the team thinks, whether it be positive or negative.

In other words, as an account manager or executive, you get to lead people towards success.

Joan Holloway

Then: Office Manager

Ah, Joan. The one woman in the show who always knew EXACTLY what was going on in any project at any time in anyone’s office.

Herding secretaries like herding cats.

She ensured the office was running smoothly and everyone had what they needed to do their work efficiently.

Now: Operations Manager.

Just like an office manager, an operations manager knows every nook and cranny of the company’s operations.

They know where you can find the best resources at optimal prices.

Operations managers also provide insight into how the industry and the business work, giving ideas on how you can optimize production.

After all, efficiency is in Joan’s blood.

Marketing jobs then and now

But what about project managers?

They didn’t exist in the 1960s ads era. Everyone kept track of everything in the pipeline on their own.

With the changing advertising landscape, project managers started to became more and more necessary. Agencies saw that making the creative director handle the whole management process for an ads project just wasn’t feasible anymore.

So, agencies began to hire individuals capable of leading projects, no matter the scope and size.

Project managers have provided their expertise and other soft skills in leading the ad team and the creative director in making campaigns, whether billboards, commercials or other types of ads.

Incorporating project managers in marketing opened new opportunities and career paths for advertisers and managers alike.

This changed the advertising industry dramatically, further fueling the creative revolution. We’re still feeling the effects of it today.


A lot has changed since the Mad Men of advertising walked Madison Avenue in New York, cocktails and Lucky Strikes in hand.

However, one thing still holds true since those times:

Teams are needed to make successful and engaging ads.

The engaging storylines in Mad Men have made us remember how we worked before:

  • Stressful times call for a drink (or two!)
  • The team’s creative juices flow with the director or manager reviewing ideas
  • Job mobility through promotions and raises.

This way of work brought project managers into the advertising world. They helped agencies prioritize which tasks are essential for the success of an ad.

There’s no doubt that project managers are crucial even in advertising and marketing.

So, if you’re planning on welcoming a project manager to your advertising agency, check our Scale Map diagnostic to see how you and your project manager can grow your agency!

Business operations consultant Juliana Marulanda
Juliana Marulanda - ScaleTime Founder
Juliana Marulanda is a business operations expert, speaker, and the founder of ScaleTime. With over 20 years of experience across Wall Street, the non-profit sector, technology startups, and family-owned businesses, she now helps service-based businesses.
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