Sunday, November 21, 2010

She Asked for It

I work in advertising, Land of the Inexplicable. Let me explain.

A client called and asked me to attend a same-day rush meeting. I hopped in the car and drove 45 minutes to get to her company's headquarters. When I got there, the conference room was filled with eager young members of the brand team. I was being hired freelance as their writer.

I asked what the assignment was. I was told that a slide deck needed to be created for a new financial product. I asked for background information. There was none yet. I asked for references. There were none. I asked if anyone understood this new product. No one did. Given no materials or information, I sat dumbfounded as the team leader ended the meeting by telling me that the project was due in three days.

One time I had a client who wanted me to say that her productwhich had to be reviewed by the FDAhad a particular attribute. Unfortunately, after weeks of combing through all the studies we could find, the medical director and I found that her product actually did the opposite of what she wanted to claim. Rather than being good for a particular medical condition, it was, well, not so good. We informed her that no scientific evidence backed the ground-breaking claim she wanted to make. She told us she did not like our negative attitudes.

Sometimes products offer their own testimonials. I can remember writing an advertising campaign for an indoor plant watering can. It was a shiny copper color and had a long neck so it could easily reach hanging plants. I filled it with water and put it on  my desk for inspiration while I was developing ad concepts. By the end of the week, the can had rusted out and was leaking all over my desk. Not the best of products.

Just as clients and their products can be grist for therapists, so can employers. I recall walking into one advertising agency in which the lobby walls were covered, floor to ceiling, with creative awards. They represented every professional organization I had ever heard of and quite a few that were new to me. When I commented on it to the owner, he boasted that they had made all the awards up so that when clients entered their offices, they would be impressed. A bit disingenuous, I guess, but that's advertising.

Coworkers can also make your eyes roll up. At one agency where I worked, a pretty young woman with no talent or work ethic was endeavoring to forge her career by ingratiating herself to the executive vice president. He put her in charge of a direct mail campaign. Her approach worked rather well for a while as they often left the building and spent the day doing fun stuff while the rest of us got the work done. Eventually, however, she became bored and left the company. That's when a coworker found something unexpected in her office. Remember the mail campaign she was in charge of and for which the client had already paid? All the letters, hundreds of them, had been shoved under her desk.

So why do I work in such a dysfunctional field? Well, because I love writing. It doesn't matter if I work on a highly technical piece or a silly fluff product. I just love the process of crafting words on a page. So if I end up dealing on a daily basis with people who are on the wrong side of the asylum wall, that goes with the territory. Shed no tears of pity for me. Like some tawdry 1950s novel, I guess you could say that by persisting in this field, I asked for it.

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