Mad Men Season 1: The Temp (June 13, 2013)

Although I have 12 years’ expertise in the fields of Corporate and Marketing Communications, I have historically been locked out from positions where “agency experience is preferred.” I’ve never understood this. What is the difference, I ask you, in positioning a brand for an internal client (your own company) versus an external one? In either scenario, failure to get it right puts you at risk of losing the “account.” In fact I would argue that when the client is your boss, you have a lot more at stake, like your job and health insurance. As the character of Don Draper likes to say, “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” At an agency, client dissatisfaction is a blow, but there will be others.

Officially, I should not face this exclusion dilemma anymore. I’m heading toward the end of my fourth week as a temporary Proofreader at a high-profile digital advertising agency in downtown Chicago. Initially, I was only supposed to last five days but after converting a weeklong job into half of that time, the invitation to stay another week has been regularly repeated.

Of course as a rabid fan of the popular AMC drama Mad Men, and gifted with a wistful imagination, I was certain this was my chance to make like a swinging Madison Avenue power player. Visions of barking at my “girl,” commanding “Get me Jaguar on the phone! Now!” swam in my mind. Late morning cocktails, afternoon naps on the office couch, exquisitely tailored suits. Oh the fun I would have – minus the constant plumes of cigarette smoke.

Turns out that life at the bottom of the ad agency food chain is not the flashy glamour fest I envisioned. While I do get the late nights at the office and the free catered dinners that accompany after hours drudgery, I am not exchanging witty banter with Roger Sterling, getting soused on Old Fashioneds or engaging in blame game pissing wars with the accounts team. I look and feel much like Peggy Olson did on that very first episode of MM – nervous, ponytailed, possibly overdressed and eager for adventure, only to experience it vicariously by observing the insiders.

At the very least my expectations of boisterous office horseplay have come to fruition. It is Thursday afternoon and I have witnessed all of the following this week:

1.     A gentleman doing a non-contextualized soft shoe atop a conference room table.

2.     Mail cart drag races down the hallway, complete with crashes, injuries and first aid relief.

3.     A sleep-deprived intern walking into a glass door.

4.     Furtive office flirting replete with closed doors and hushed whispers.

It turns out that being an observer of chicanery, a chronicler if you will, rather than a direct participant, suits me. I don’t know these people and when my assignment ends, they will fade into my memory just as I will escape their collective consciousness. I have no real stake in the game and that permits me to let the experience wash over me, evaporating on my skin, leaving no permanent stain. I pause. I share a good-natured grin with other bystanders. I go back to my temporary desk.

Only an updated resume will prove I was here.

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