Roger and Don – and Innovation

The blogger Dan Blank last week used a scene from this season’s great final episode of Mad Men to illustrate the tensions in media today – and he could have been talking about associations, too.

To recap Mad Men … for those not yet smitten … it’s 1963, just weeks after JFK’s assassination. As we know from our vantage point, the world is poised to change.

Roger Sterling and Don Draper are two of the lead managers in a New York ad agency. Roger inherited the agency from his late father, and he’s been coasting through life lately. Don is a scrapper, self-made, brimming with ideas and energy, who senses something is changing but not sure how.

Their agency was recently bought out by a bloodless British megafirm. But Roger and Don have had enough of being drones, so they quit the agency in an exhilarating coup, took some of the best talent with them, and formed a new shop.

As they leave the old agency office suite for the last time, they turn around. Roger says, “How long do you think it will take us to be in a place like this again?” Don shrugs, “I never saw myself working in a place like this.”

Roger doesn’t know the old privileged world that he loved is already dead. Don, as usual, can’t hit the reset button fast enough.

In associations, we see similar tensions. The old fuel of associations (trade shows, magazines and meetings) still brings in dollars, but it’s not enough anymore. Just like newspapers, TV, music, and books (only a matter of time), the money is bleeding out of the association business model. The new world – which includes the virtual world – has yet to completely manifest itself, but we know something different is coming. We just don’t know what.

We can either pine for the past (Roger) or get jazzed by the future (Don).

My money’s on Don. He’ll have it figured out before anyone else.

Which one are you?


One thought on “Roger and Don – and Innovation

  1. Great!!

    As another fan of this blog and of Mad Men (yes I saw the finale) this comparison rings so true – and also true for many of the industries and professions that associations serve.

    As a former WSJ reporter who has been a full-time speaker for a decade, I, too have been feeling the shift.

    Even before the rise of social media, getting meeting planners to experiment on the crown jewel (then) the annual meeting.

    Storvboarding to make more meaningful moments.
    To consider more ways for meeting to become interactive, for would-be attendees to be involved in the choice of meeting formats, topics, speakers, ways to keep the conference conversation going all year round…. it takes unavoidable examples of innovation for other to feel safe in imitating.

    To not be in control is a scary thing for any group that has something of value and to feel they might lose value, members, reputation if they open up the conversation, crowdsource content and then find new ways to monetize that value – reward the contributors that the association’s member vote as most valuable. One might not come out on top. Way back in 2007 I wrote a blog post on How an Online Social Network Could Steal Association Members

    Keep up the insightful writing!

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