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Don Draper's Advice for Climate Change Deniers

04/01/2015 11:41 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015
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Don Draper is the ultimate alpha male. He is suave, fashionable, and almost always on point. Many have written about business lessons that can be gleaned from Mad Men's most magnetic male role model. Given all the bad press anthropogenic climate change denialists like Rick Scott of Florida and Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma have been getting lately, I thought it would be useful to consider what advice Draper might give them. I channeled my inner Mad Man and came up with a list of five pieces of advice that would get the deniers out of the icy situation in which they find themselves.

1. Change Happens. Don Draper navigated from the staid 1950s to the swinging '60s and the rocking '70s with ease. He rode the currents of time by embracing science, technology, fashion, and social change. When others belittled the impact of television on advertising, Don embraced it. He did not hide from the realities of the world. Today, Don would urge deniers to open up their minds and look at the reality of the times in which they live to ensure that they were not out of step with science and social and cultural trends. At the Explorer's Club Annual Meeting in Manhattan last week, several lecturers spoke about their research on climate change or how their efforts were adding knowledge about how our climate was changing. This discourse is occurring in scientific lecture halls all over the world. Failure to understand that change is happening gives one a professional disadvantage in the modern workplace.

2. Your career should mean more than your relationships. Don Draper's advertising career is everything. He worked long hours and often sacrificed his relationships to get the job done. For those political leaders out there, it is important to recognize that your relationship to your donors or special interest groups is not job number one. Your job is representing the best interests of the people of your district. Don would suggest that your priorities are out of whack if you ignore the vast majority of scientists in order to support your stakeholders in fund raising or special interest groups with whom you may have a personal relationship.

3. Find out what your customers want. Remember when Don Draper worked on the Jai Alai account in Mad Men? He didn't want to take it on because he knew that no amount of advertising was going to sell Jai Alai to Americans. Today, the vast majority of Americans understand that climate change is real and they want something to be done about it. According to a recent poll conducted by the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, roughly 2/3 of suburbanites believe that climate change is a serious problem. Clearly middle Americans are in synch with the scientific community. Anthropogenic climate change denailists now seem out of step with the reality of the world and harm their personal brand and the brand of their organizations.

4. Understand how language impacts your brand. When Don Draper rebranded cigarettes, he used the hook, It's Toasted to give a sense of homey flavor to a product that was linked to cancer. Right now, those who do not believe in anthropogenic climate change are branded as anti-science and seem entirely unserious. Of course, much of the anthropogenic climate change denial lingo originated in pro fossil fuel rhetoric. In many ways, this doesn't make much sense. We are not going off of fossil fuels any time soon. In the U.S. we currently get less than 10 percent of our energy from renewable sources and the vast majority of our energy comes from fossil fuels. While many suggest that we are toasted due to the overuse of fossil fuels, energy companies would be wise to communicate our continued need for fossil fuels while embracing the realities of our climate change challenges. Fossil Fuels: The Bridge to a Greener Century might work. Energy companies are trying to negotiate in this new territory. BP has already jumped on board, but other fossil fuel companies seem out of step.

5. Recognize your value and your responsibility to your client. Most of the rhetoric denying the existence of anthropogenic climate change is coming from individuals with limited experience in the sciences. The sharp language coming from these quarters makes organizations linked to climate change seem uninformed. Are you really adding value to your organization or your colleagues if you seem out of step with mainstream science? When Don's behavior hurt his firm, he stepped aside. As anthropogenic climate change denial becomes more of a fringe viewpoint, those with fringe beliefs need to consider the damage they are doing to their organization and their overall reputation. At the same time, if one is a die hard anthropogenic climate change denier, own it and embrace it. Just don't expect your organization or your colleagues to stand with you and don't expect your client to continue your relationship in a world that is working to figure out how to solve the problem most acknowledge.