Remembrance and Reflections: By L.E.Taylor
It was my first client project on the West Coast. My young freelance business had been confined to the Midwest but nonetheless it required travel. On a delayed flight change at LAX, I’d met a congenial marketing exec named Gary, who worked for an architectural products company in Anaheim. He lamented his ad agency complaints to me, and within an hour of war stories, Gary had invited me to meet with his boss, Mr. J., the firm’s owner and CEO.
So I came out a week later, showed a dubious Mr. J. and his energetic young management team my portfolio and we talked business. I returned home to Michigan, drafted a proposal, including strategy, tactics, a fee, a detailed cost breakout, and a schedule. Gary called promptly to say it was a “go.”
Now, not-so fresh off the one hour shuttle from LAX, I was back in Orange County to begin scouting photo locations for a couple of days. Sapped by Jet lag, I still had enough in the tank for a courtesy office call on Gary and the client team. When the “boys” insisted we all to go out to dinner, I agreed. They invited Mr. J.
Dinner was delayed by adult beverages. I drank tonic water. My body thought it was midnight and I was fading. The restaurant was noisy, the patter between the young execs was animated and jovial.
Mr. J. remained chilly and remote. Out of nowhere, he said, “Let’s hear from our brilliant adman.” Slouched back on his spine, he muttered, “Waddam-I getting for my money?”
The boss had blind-sided his minions and conversation died. He and I locked stares. “It’s in the proposal,” I replied.
“Well, I’m paying, and I want to hear from you what you’re gonna be doing for it.” Gary, the marketing director, murmured something reasonable that didn’t work. Mr. J. drilled me from beneath lowered brows. “I’m the client, dammit. I want to hear what I’m getting for my money.”
“Hey, c’mon, RJ,” somebody said, “why…?”
“Why? Because I sign the damn checks that’s why and I want to hear from my ad guy.”
Here we go; the gauntlet. I was tired. And bored. “Your ad guy,” I said quietly. “ RJ, there’s a misunderstanding here. I’m not anybody’s… anything.” His glower froze. “And I don’t’ care who signs the checks… so long as they don’t bounce.”
The redoubtable Mr. J growled, “I think it’s time for our ad agency to buy a round of drinks.”
Cold sober and utterly focused on the man who wanted to be my alpha, I stood up. “Mr. J,” I said, replacing my chair at the table, “I left home twelve hours ago, and I traveled 2,000 miles to help your company go to market.” I tossed a wrinkled Fifty onto the table. “Not to kiss your ass. Drink up.”
Later I learned from Gary that the betting among the guys was even, whether I’d show up the next morning. I was surprised at that; it never occurred to me not to show up. We had a deal.
Bullying was not new to me that night two thousand miles from home. Nor, although vulgar and sometimes dangerous, was it a mystery.
Next week, Bully Boys – Part III: Street Smarts