Paquin was dozing off in a conference room adjacent to his office. He
was busily interviewing advertising firms looking for some group or
someone who could interject from creative sunshine into his staid
daily newspaper. As the new Managing Editor, the exhausted
youngish-looking man was disappointed in all things metric: circulation
was down, classified, display advertising was languishing, and
competitors were chiseling away at the already too precious market
share. It was a crappy time to be in the newspaper business and it was
up to him to make some new moves.
was hired to shake things up and his first decision was to bring in some
professionals to tell him what to do. A journalist by trade, Matt had
little patience for the so-called creative types and had learned to
somewhat accommodate their jargon-saturated blatherings, as he had gotten
older. The day was blocked off to bring in four leading groups for pitch
meetings and Matt was halfway through the third one when he realized that
he was slowly going crazy. The slideshow presentations were all done on
Microsoft PowerPoint™ and so far, all three of the presenters had the
grating habit of reading every word instead of showing an image and
summary and talking around it. Two of the three went even farther and also read
the title and supporting bullet points word for word.
third presentation was led by a slicked haired sales type with strangely
dull and small teeth. When he talked, Matt’s eyes were drawn to his
mouth trying to differentiate the speaker’s strangely colored little rat
teeth from the general pallor of his complexion. Each time the presenter
would laugh or enunciate, Matt could see the two lines of nougat-colored
teeth, lined up cooperatively in his mouth; giving the impression of a
ecru colored cob of corn with a uniform split down the middle. The
combination of the teeth color and his tendency to listen with his mouth
open resulted in an odd image of slow-talking yet fast-looking person
reading large words. The closest comparison was a poorly dubbed and boring
foreign film narrated by an extra from Miami Vice.
tried desperately to concentrate but the dull little man with the dull
little teeth insisted on reading verbatim each of the slides, which Matt
had estimated in the high thousands. Teased with a hard copy of the
presentation, the actual slide count were cruelly omitted, thus forcing Matt
and his lieutenants to deal with dispassionate and canned vocal stylings
of a soulless incubus. Eventually
the presentation labored to an end and Matt had made it quietly but
abundantly clear that any follow-up questions by anyone on his staff would
evoke his lifelong wrath. The presentation team asked several times, if
anyone had any question whatsoever but eventually packed up and left as
the audience sat there quietly hoping for their departure. Hands were shook, cards
exchanged, and the agency team departed, leaving the team alone in the
conference littered with expensive colored binders of the exact words that
were still drilling their ways into the brain stems of the group.
group saw the sales people leave and exhaled a collective sigh of relief.
can’t handle another one of these,” said Matt. “I find these canned
presentations insulting and trite. Also, I get the impression that they think we are illiterate.”
figure they made one presentation two years ago and they keep trotting it
out every time they get a chance,” said Mariah Johnese. She had been
Matt’s top lieutenant and now was currently responsible for all paper
operations. Not only smart and a great journalist, she was one of the most
beautiful women within five states. Mariah was stop the clock, slap the
baby stunning and when she walked down the street, people consistently
would stop what they were doing and just stare. The extent of her beauty
actually caused her more harm than good because no one could initially
believe anyone that gorgeous had the journalistic chops to be in her
things be this bad? Do we actually need a marketing strategy?”
Good reporting isn’t enough anymore. We need to put together some sort
know,” said Matt reluctantly. “But I can’t take any more PowerPoints.
I see the template crap, complete with their cut and paste mentality and I
want to scream. Doesn’t anyone care about function over form?”
will treat that as a rhetorical question,” said Felix Michaels. “Of
course someone cares about that but I doubt if we will find them during
this series of pitch meetings.”
agree. So, who is next?”
don’t have their handouts yet. They usually arrive via courier an hour
or so before their show so as soon as I get them, I will hand them out,”
said Mariah, “It’s time for lunch.”
Matt came back after taking a long walk over lunch, he found Mariah and
Felix in the conference room giggling.
is so funny?”
presentation starts off with a poem.”
are kidding, a poem? That is so juvenile, so tragically desperate and
bordering on sophomoric.”
read several lines to provide context but did not take the time to slog
through the two pages. The fact that the poem was there was good enough
for the trio.
usually used the word ‘sophomoric’ as a compliment. In fact, he stated
using it after an old college girlfriend had accused him of being
sophomoric; which he took as neither an insult nor a compliment. The
accusation had ironically occurred when he actually was a sophomore but he
had the good sense not to point that out to her nor accuse her of misusing
the word. Officially immature, he did not argue that point but the actual
definition of sophomoric also implies a combination of conceit and
overconfidence while being poorly informed. She was legitimately
frustrated with his obvious lack of maturity but he actually showed some
odd maturity by not striking back and arguing the merits of the word even
though he did resent the implication, that he was stupid. However, he took
the criticism to heart and walked away, know that the relationship was
rightfully over. They were not only going in different directions, the
direction was now considered askew and likely never to cross socially
happen to love poems, if I was writing for a junior high school
newspaper,” said Felix.
was still fixating on the use of a poem as part of a pitch strategy when
Felix commented about the high school newspaper. Felix’s comment rang a
bell but he continued to think about the motivation for it. If the goal
was to separate the presentation from the others, it succeeded but the
risks introduced by such an odd move made the whole thing more peculiar
than bold. Up until now, three groups had send in a standard template
consisting of an executive summary, a PowerPoint presentation and some
type of cutesy memento designed to reemphasize their pitched message. On
his desk, he had calculator that looked like a mini-newspaper (signifying
the multiple and yet-to-be mined uses for the newspaper), a cool rocket
ship emblazoned with the masthead of the paper (signifying the move into
the 21st century) and a kangaroo wearing a little newspaper
carrier’s bag (the significance was still unclear). Obviously, the
fourth group was going to worth seeing to figure out if they were crazy
risk-takers or just crazy.
was at least an hour before the presentation and the good part about being
the client is that you don’t have to do anything but show up. The agency
was already arriving next door and they were relieved they had an hour to
tech out the room. Too often, poor presentations occurred when the
technical magic fails to come about due to the failure of walking into a
room cold without the benefit of some preparation in the actual venue.
Thanks to a common air grate, Matt and his team heard the group running
through the stages and at first listen, they seemed just like the other
teams. Occasionally, one would scamper by in a dark suit over some
appropriate but slightly chancy artsy-fartsy accessory or shirt color but
at first blush, they didn’t look like poets.
am so glad the ponytail look is over with for the guys,” said Mariah.
“I was officially sick to death of guys with ponytails and dark suits
ponytail will be viewed in the same vein as the bow tie, the cowboy hat
and the shoulder-padded blazer,” said Matt. “But the few folks I have
seen next door neither look like poets or Judith Light.”
that poem,” said Mariah. “I wonder how they fit that into the
we’ll find out sooner than later,” said Matt.
the time came, Matt was anxious to see what they had to say. The poem had
energized him, from an absurdest standpoint, but fatigue-killing energy is
better than many of emotions. He was still thinking about the ploy when
him and his team trotted into the room and they took strategic positions
in between the agency team. They had agreed upon spreading themselves
around the room in order to see the agency’s communications dynamic and
to avoid the awkward structure of placing the two groups on opposite ends
of a table, acting like the Paris peace talks.
presentation started as normally with general introductions of all the
players. The graphics-rich pitch books were distributed ceremoniously and
the PowerPoint™ was exactly like the other three. Drunk with bullet points
and effective white space, the presentation climaxed with a repeat of
their main points and the groups found themselves were they started:
looking at each other, awaiting epiphany, sadness or euphoria.
there any questions,” asked the agency lead. She was a pleasant
attractive but semi-generic young woman in her late thirties, with hip
glasses and stylized Mao suit. It was nicely accessorized with her own
fashion choices and positioned in that fashion sweet spot of creative yet
still benign enough not to offend.
group didn’t say anything. Matt, Felix and Mariah were waiting for someone
to reference the poem. Mariah knew the poems content the best of the three
and she was embarrassed to be the one to own the knowledge. She had
quietly read the whole thing twice during the presentation, to stay
engaged, but didn’t have the heart to route it to the others. The poem
went on and on, ruthlessly beating the “’Twas the Night Before
Christmas” meter into the ground while beating the drum for this
agency’s creativity and moxie.
Mariah could not take the silence. “What about the poem?”
poem?” The three agency flacks said in unison. “The poem?”
‘Night Before Christmas’ poem. The one stuck in the pitch kit.”
Matt had heard the words “night before Christmas,” his head snapped
back and suddenly said, in an excited voice usually reserved for his inner
dialogue, “Miranda Billings.”
all three agency types said, “You know Miranda Billings?”
waved his hand slightly, signifying that he would talk first. “I knew a
Miranda Billings, in fact, I went to school with her.”
said the fledging Maoist, “she might be a year or two younger than you
but you appear to be both in the same age range.”
understandable,” said Matt. “I was the editor of the High School paper
and Miranda was a cub reporter. Not only did she not do anything I had
asked, she seems determined to use the poem ‘Twas the Night Before
Christmas’ in every journalistic situation imaginable.”
her,” said the Maoist. “She is the daughter of the agency’s founder
and one of the perquisites of the lucky sperm club is to enjoy the title
of Creative Director.”
Maoist had just committed the cardinal sin of marketing magic: criticizing
the man and the magic behind the curtain. However, this criticism was a
tactical decision because she could tell that Miranda had begun annoying
people long before she worked at the agency. Possibly leveraging that
knowledge with this shared exasperation of her alleged skills and
abilities, this could work in her favor.
smiled. He had not thought of Miranda for almost twenty years. He recalled
back in High School when flush with success of using the Night Before
Christmas poem on her first story, she trotted it out with almost
apocalyptical effects on a dance full of future farmers and homemakers. He
continued to smile when he remembered her incredulous reactions to his
complete re-write of her Iliad-inspired dance piece and how she stormed
out of the newsroom, completely frustrated with his inability to recognize
graduated a few weeks later and did not literally think of her again.
Ironically, he never had cause to see the Christmas poem in his travels,
as that would have guaranteed a memory or two, but he went on to college and
into a succession of newspaper gigs starting with reporting, columnist and
eventually made a conscious decision about five years ago to move into a
formal editor role. This newspaper was a sleepy beast; a great history but
a lack of interest in staying current with the times and the ever changing
needs of its readers. He was growing a medium-sized paper in a
medium-sized town when he got a call from the owner of a conglomerate of
newspaper chains. This paper was his for the taking and he was guaranteed
complete and total control. After a spirited round of negotiations, he
took control of the paper and headed off on a goal to haul it into the
always liked being an editor and was comfortable about making decisions.
In retrospective, a vast majority of his decisions were good ones and
always slanted towards the readers’ perspective. He both supported and
challenged his reporters and always preached accuracy and corroboration.
Decisions on story lines were made quickly and Matt’s decisions were
instinctive and on the mark. In only a few decisions did Matt second-guess
himself; usually hindsight showed him other options but his gut and heart
were in the right place and usually at the right time.
he took over the paper, he spent a few weeks getting familiar with the
operations; he spent time with sales, distribution as well as his
editorial staff but he learned very quickly that the paper needed a
face lift and needed that face lift quickly. Once of the first orders of
business was to get some agency professionals in and help shape the
overall message for the newspaper. Newspapers were always looked at
old-fashioned and each day that perception became more solidified with
twenty-four cable news stations, Internet sources and a constant,
wide-open flood of information. Matt knew that each day, more and more of
his subscribers were dying of old age and even more and more of the
younger generation turned their cyber-noses up even at the mere mention of
the old and inky method of information dissemination.
made a few phone calls and eventually brought in the top four marketing
agencies that specialized in media makeovers. Each one had a series of
success stories but unfortunately, none had battle stripes in the specific
task of blowing sunshine into an old concept like a newspaper. Personally,
he had several ideas rolling around in his head including investing in
more street reporters, improving the cosmetics of the paper’s look and
feel and partnering with the local schools to get some excited, new
readers into the fold but he felt it was time to bring in the
he kept flashing back to the twenty-year old high school newspaper office
images, he wanted to re-think the “hiring some professionals”
strategy. These folks had likely been enduring Miranda’s countless
attempts at reusing the poem at every opportunity.
The increase in conversational volume in the conference room brought him back to the present day; everyone was talking either to justify the presence of the poem or to position themselves one person away from the growing realization that this ad agency had its own internal issues. Matt’s eyes locked onto the Maoist’s and she motioned that she would call him after this meeting to either explain the world she was living in or to yet again draw distinction between the thickness of blood and water. Matt was pleased they could talk away from the literal maddening crowd and quickly concluded the meeting.
“Excuse me? Excuse me everybody?” Matt loudly said. The din was still pretty impressive but his second request for quiet seemed to turn the noise into a duller and more manageable roar.
“It appears that the poem got us all sidetracked. I am glad that the main points of the meeting were presented before the discovery and I want to thank you all for coming to see us and for all that hard work.”
Usually, that last sentence was shorthand for ‘thanks but no thanks,’ but in this case, the group was heartened with his final sentence.
Matt motioned towards the Maoist, still not having a clue what her name was, and said, “We will be talking off line and determining the next, best steps.”
The Maoist nodded and the team picked up all their material and Matt walked them to the door. At the elevator, he shook each one’s hand and thanked them individually, looking directly into their eyes. Finally, the Maoist was the last one and Matt took a moment longer.
“Thanks for coming in, it was certainly an interesting presentation.”
The Maoist smiled and said, “I will remember this one for a long time.”
“So, who calls who?”
The Maoist said, “I will be calling you. There is no sense wasting easy drama.” and handed Matt another card.
He had the sense not to look down at it to finally get her name. He just smiled and pulled out another one of his cards. She smiled and placed it into her portfolio. Up close, the Maoist was far prettier that she appeared across the conference table. Her eyes were twinkling and he was picking up some type of vibe, origin or purpose unsure, but it did intrigue him.
Matt was single but was pretty careful not to date co-workers due to two main reasons: the first one was the general sexual harassment issue. He was in a supervisory role and most of the eligible women were of lower rank and thus, perfect representatives of why the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was penned in the first place. The second reason was more based on his own tendencies: an editor has to give orders, edit reporter’s stories and make tough decisions. These cruel responsibilities cause any opportunity for a social life to run and hide. If you want to strengthen a budding relationship, the thing NOT to do is to slash eighty percent of a potential girlfriend’s story.
“I will be in touch soon” said the Maoist with a glimmer of mischievousness in her eyes. And with that, the group entered the elevator and descended downward towards the lobby.
Matt turned around and looked at the card, it said “Miranda Billings, Creative Director.”
title has been bugging me for years but the title is so good that I guess I better
learn a few new tricks and
punch out something about sledgehammers and metaphors. I have no idea when this one will be out as the
challenge of working backwards looms large. This is almost done.
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