2005-03-17
Clients broought me a variety of challenges. On the day I describe
here, I learned a lesson about listening . . . before talking.

The
client was a sharply dressed graphic artist. I would have known he was
a graphic artist regardless of the setting because they all have one
arm slightly longer than the other from carrying those huge portfolios
around.

The creative director called me in and suggested
that I bring three coffees with me. In those days ad agency writers
attended to the coffee. Asking the receptionist to get coffee was
against some sort of human rights legislation or maybe a city urban
renewal ordinance or something. Once I made the mistake of asking our
receptionist to get coffee. She asked me if I had a piano tied to my
leg.

I was the new kid. The new writer. The one that everybody
looked at piteously because of his total lack of knowledge and common
sense. That new kid. The one who fetched coffee.

A few moments
later, carefully balancing three coffees, I entered the boardroom. As
we sipped from our mugs, each bearing a different media logo, the
client got right to the point. "Ever heard of the Neptune Society?" he
asked.

I jumped in, eager to show my broad general knowledge.
"Sure, I said, "that's when you cross the equator for the first time on
a cruise ship and everyone gets drunk and dresses up strangely and . .
."

The creative director placed his hand firmly on the table in
front of me and favored me with a withering stare. Then he turned to
the client with a you-see-what-I'm-up-against look. "Why don't you give
us an overview," he soothed.

"When members of the Neptune
Society die," our potential client explained patiently, "they are
cremated and their ashes are scattered with appropriate ceremony on the
Pacific Ocean."

"Oh, that Neptune Society," I muttered and drew withering stare number two from my boss.


The client went on to explain that his customer was the owner of a
local funeral home and was contemplating the same sort of society in
our area.

"Geez, we're a long way from the Pacific," I offered.
"Mind you, there's always Lake Winnipeg" They both looked pityingly at
me.

The client then said, "We plan to scatter the ashes
from a plane, over the prairies. It's environmentally friendly,
dignified and most important, brand new. It may be the greatest thing
to hit the funeral business since cremation itself."

I choked
and only with the greatest difficulty, managed to avoid spewing coffee
out of my nose. Then I made it worse. I spoke. "Right," I snickered.
"We could come up with a neat slogan like, Throw Momma from the Plane
and Daddy too. Or maybe we could get the plane to sky-write the dead
guy's name."

The potential client slammed his briefcase shut
and rose from his chair, turning to the creative director. I'll call
you," he snapped. Then he stormed out.

"That guy wasn't
serious, was he?" I asked after the echoing of the slamming boardroom
door had died down. I mean, some farmer is out on his field and Uncle
George's ashes come down from a plane . . .

"Yes, he was," said
my boss between clenched teeth, "and we just gave him several reasons
to take his business elsewhere. You're new here so I'd just like to
give you a couple of tips about the way we operate." I gave him my best
look of humility mixed with contriteness.

"In this agency," he
went on, "the writer sits in the briefing session and listens
attentively. Then, he respectfully asks questions for clarification,
making sure that they aren't stupid questions." His voice became
harsher and a lot louder. "THE WRITER'S JOB IS NOT TO DRIVE POTENTIAL
CLIENTS FROM THE GODDAMN BUILDING."

He placed his hand on my
shoulder and spoke softly, menacingly. "Try very hard to remember that.
I don't want to have to say it again." Then he got up and strode out.


As I sat alone in the board room, I opined that the morning so far had
not gone all that well. There was an upside though. I had learned
something. I had learned that one should really pay attention to all
prospective clients even the crazy ones. What sounded like lunacy to
me, could have resulted in The Agency doing what it did best sending
out invoices.

I went back to my desk and decided to check out the condition of my resume. Just in case.