By BG © 2005
Roger popped his head in my cube and told, more than asked, "Langston, can I have a minute?" I tossed the copy on which I was working to the far corner of my desk and pushed away from my desk to chase Roger back to his office.
Corner office, for what it's worth. Roger was the Aardema in "Aardema and Vanderschultz," West Michigan's premier ad agency – which I think is akin to being the best regional bi-monthly magazine covering the Greater Des Moines area. Roger Aardema wasn't my boss exactly, but he was the type of Partner who didn't feel the least bit bad rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty in the creative process. He also had a habit of taking nearly everyone in his small agency "under his wing," in a manner of speaking. As such, a low level hack such as myself trailing a top dog to his office didn't cause eyebrows to raise. Hell, he spent ten minutes behind closed doors with our sturdy receptionist Tina just last week telling her how much he values her politeness and efficiency, and how she's the voice of the company, and in many ways the heart and soul so far as our customers are concerned.
Still, there's always that little feeling of dread that hangs over my head. Every day I'm here I try to work hard and work smart, but all I want is to be left alone. I just assume that someday someone is going to notice what I'm doing and point me out as a fraud. My own personal Sword of Damocles I guess.
Twenty-five yards tops from my quasi-futuristic style-conscious cubicle to the corner office, and every step behind Roger is loaded with assumptions. I figure it's fifty paces past my peers in their Aeron chairs and their Mac computers, five steps to sit and face the executioner, and ten minutes being informed of the various reasons the blade is swinging across my neck today before I can just pack my shit and try to leave as quietly as possible.
I take a mental inventory of my possible transgressions, and I come up empty. Still, I'm sure there's something and my irrational fear will be proven true in just another twenty paces...
Roger circled behind his desk and eased into tall plush leather. Unlike the rest of the office, which was hyper-intentionally designed to show how uber-cool and "with it" we all were to our clients, Roger's office looked freshly plucked from any high-end attorney's grasp. Mahogany desk, high back leather chair with a look equally imposing and rigid, and volumes from floor to ceiling on the south wall, which I'd never seen even momentarily out of place. The bay window behind Roger looked out west over the river, and with the late afternoon hour cast a glow into the room which thoroughly surrounded Roger as he sat. I've always wondered how intentional that was.
Roger beamed and gestured towards one of the two tub chairs in front of me. "Get the door if you would, and grab a seat." It was Father-Figure Roger, the hangman would have to wait another day to get me. I clicked the door closed and sat down. "Langston, thanks for coming by. I've got some good news, and I wanted to be able to share it with you." Roger tugged at his collar, pulling his tie loose and popped the button on his shirt open. The "end of day" signal combined with "I'm your buddy, let's chat." I always found these slick guys in nice suits to be a pretty easy read.
"You've been doing great work on Amanda and Ryan's team, and they've let me know how invaluable you've been to them on the Eagle Ridge Country Club campaign."
Bullshit. I've been with this agency for seven years now as a Copywriter, and now as a Senior Copywriter, and I know full well Amanda and Ryan were the type of young gun Account Executives I'd seen time and time again. They get in the door with a prospect, land a big account for the company, and take complete creative credit for the efforts of the team. I guarantee you Roger wouldn't have noticed my efforts if I hadn't have been writing for his agency for so long.
"They – and I – really wanted to express our appreciation. The client loves the campaign, and besides the print ad being visually striking, the copy was just dead perfect. It's exactly what the client wanted, and I'm glad you were able to help Ryan and Amanda deliver."
"Thanks Roger, I appreciate it." I took the compliment quietly, no need to talk about how bereft of writing talent Ryan was, or how it took quite a bit of time to convince Amanda my ideas were her ideas, and therefore the right choices on this project. It's been like this ever since I got here. Ryan and Amanda were the latest sales team to which I had been assigned, and were typical of the people with whom I've had to partner during my tenure at A&V Agency. Roger hires a young, charismatic Account Exec with good fashion sense and hair, tosses them out in the field to land clients, and puts them with back room talent like myself whose ideas and hard work are co-opted time and again for their own career advancement.
"Now, for the news. Ryan is leaving us. He was recruited out to one of our competitors in Chicago." By the way, by "competitor," he means "bigger and less regionally focused agency." "Ryan's departure is going to mean we're shuffling things up a little bit here."
Whoa. Was I about to get promoted to Account Executive? Could I work side-by-side with Amanda as equals? Without wanting to throw her under the bus every time she had a bad idea? And were there enough buses around for as often as that happened? Hell, at minimum, maybe now I'd start to get some credit for all the creative effort I've been putting in.
"We're going to move Amanda into our Internet Strategies group, I think she's earned it. Langston, we're going to make you Lead Senior Copywriter. Basically all the same things you've been doing before, but focusing completely on print copy, with dotted line management to the Senior Copywriters on the other teams. Basically, if they get stuck, you're the go-to guy now. How's that sound?"
How's that sound? Like not only a life sentence of getting no credit for my work, but also adding a lifetime of doing the work of others on top. Fucking fantastic Roger. Of course, that's not what I say out loud.
"Thanks Roger. I, um... Well, I have a question."
Roger smiled and nodded. "Sure, anything at all Mr. Lead Senior Copywriter. What's up?"
"I feel like I've been doing a great job for you for over seven years now." Roger was nodding eagerly. "I guess, well, I'm just concerned. That's all. I really think if you gave me a shot as an Account Executive, I know I'd be really good at it. I feel like I've been waiting for my shot, and it hasn't happened yet, and I don't know what I can do to help you see that's what I want."
Roger pulled in closer to the desk, obviously mixing a little Boss Man in with Father-Figure for this discussion. "Langston, the wheels around here don't turn without you, you know this right?" I nodded, reluctantly. "There are two reasons you've been passed over for Account Executive. The first? You're so good at what you do I just don't want to take that focus away from you. I need you putting the blinders on and punching up those ideas into usable copy. That's your niche, that's where you excel. We're all a team here, and I don't think anyone can understate your importance to our deliverables here. This is why I want to make a gesture here to give you more responsibility here too."
I'd heard this part before. "And the second reason?"
Roger audibly sighed, kind of one of those "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you" conversation stoppers. "I don't know how to tell you this Langston, so I'm just going to come out and lay it on the table. I don't feel you're 'Account Executive Material.' You're disheveled, you don't have that style and panache I'm looking for. I need a guy who's going to get out in front of our clients and sell the image we're trying to tell them we can bring to their business. Langston, how old are you?"
"Twenty-eight." I muttered.
"Are those Dockers? I'd bet your shoes didn't cost you more than $40. Your shirt's collar won't lay down properly. Bad haircut, slightly overweight, I could go on. I'm not going to varnish the truth here Langston. I need you, your talent has helped us immeasurably over the past seven years, and you've really grown into your role. You should be proud of that. But Ryan and Amanda are who I want walking in the front door of our clients' offices."
Roger paused, letting this sink in. I don't know how long the uncomfortable silence lasted, but I think the look on my face was enough to let the guilt settle in for Roger. As an attempt to salvage he threw me a bone on my way out the door.
"Did I tell you that you get a raise too? 3%. I'll even make it retroactive to January. I'm sorry Langston, but I want to make sure you know where you're headed here. There are plenty of places you can go in this company, and I want you to feel like you're working towards something on my watch. Account Executive isn't it."
Well shit, I get promoted and I feel just about as lousy as I would have had I gotten fired. Terrific.
BG is a writer from Western Michigan.
July 27, 2005
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