SalesRants 8: Stage One=Denial

How big of a deal is it really when a huge account falls through? Secret Sales Guy’s about to find out

A Salesman Runs Through It
Besides teaching me fun, homespun, business-related jargon such as “all sizzle and no steak,” and “let’s chuck some jelly at the wall and see what sticks,” my first Publisher taught me something pretty valuable about the business.

“Sales Guy,” he said, “What does a tea bag string manufacturer in India, a coffee grower in Guatemala, a Starbucks owner in Baton Rouge, and a manufacturer of coffee roasting machines in Dusseldorf have in common?”

“Beats me, Boss,” I answered, “They are all B-level prospects?” At the time, I was working for a business magazine about the retail coffee business. Boss looked at me with barely hidden exasperation — and some pride. He was training me, a former senior editor, to be a salesman.

 

“Yes, and no, Sales Guy. You see, these people have absolutely nothing more in common — besides being in the coffee industry — than the fact that they read Retail Coffee Journal,**” he said. “They may never meet, but every month they look forward to reading our magazine and catching up on the latest news. We are their lifeline to the industry, and we are the strongest community they are a part of.”

The information was, frankly, somewhat stunning. Did over 50,000 people with a tangential relationship to the coffee business really depend on RCJ to bind them together? Was the CEO of the Singapore-based coffee export company sitting on the throne for his morning constitutional and reading it at the same time the Honduran plantation owner was leafing through RCJ with his evening Cuba Libre? Amazing. The idea that our small business magazine was influencing and binding this disparate community together was intoxicating.

As our new sales guy — armed only with an outdated media kit, a BPA statement, and a corporate AmEx card capped at $4,000 –I was going to be the brand ambassador for RCJ. I would be an intrepid man on the street funding our wise editorial one $6,790 net page of advertising at a time, until the entire coffee industry was bound under our glorious banner. While I was at it, I would also collect a copious amount of airline frequent flier miles, and have the opportunity for much duty-free shopping. It was the ultimate dream: a way to be on the business side of publishing, and also work for the greater good.

The dream lasted until Guatemalan coffee roaster went 120 days past due on his first two pages of advertising, slashing my September commission check in half. There were a few more bad apples in the “community” as well, leading me to believe that the international nirvana of RCJ was more like a melting pot of mediocre businesses all struggling to make a buck off of Starbucks. The airline miles kept adding up, though. But after a few swings through industrial centers in Germany, Central America, and the midwestern United States, the glory of “international travel” has diminished faster than the balance in my Chase account.

Lord, help me believe again.

Stage One=Denial
We lost a big one today: Big Electronics Company decided to pull the plug on Project New Media, a $300,000 whammy of a sponsorship with more bells and whistles than my daughter’s new tricycle. It had everything: print, online, live events, Webcasting — the works. It was the project that proved #1 Industry Magazine was more than just the leader of the pack in terms of market share — we were a cutting-edge Publisher, ready to “deliver the leading edge in content-based marketing.”

The saddest part is that our plan worked. We produced beautiful advertorials about Big Electronics Company’s latest equipment. We built them a Web site with famous people using their gear. We packed auditoriums full of enthusiastic business consumers, ready to get the latest technical information about their products, and offered them a “hands-on user experience” with Electronics Company’s latest products.

We delivered ROI like nobody’s business, too. Mailing lists, online statistics, survey data, user feedback, banner ad stats. You name it, we had it. Then we sat down in front of Big Electronics Company with our Powerpoint, ready to get our renewal (the net cost of which had already been factored into our fourth-quarter P&L), and got the Heisman. The big “talk to the hand.”

What happened?

New Guy was in charge now, and he had other ideas about Big Electronics Company’s marketing. Our ambitious program wasn’t his idea, and therefore he wouldn’t get enough credit for its success.

Well, it turns out that the guy we sold this albatross of a program to got canned, walking off into the sunset with an early retirement package and a consulting job. New Guy was in charge now, and he had other ideas about Big Electronics Company’s marketing. He was going to “shake up the team” and “bring in some new blood” to their stodgy, yet reasonably effective, business media plan. Bottom line? Our ambitious program wasn’t his idea, and therefore he wouldn’t get enough credit for its success.

I haven’t told the team yet.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/17/2006]

SalesRants 7: Doing the Devil’s Work

Carpentry fantasies are good and well, but let’s be honest—if he had a hammer, Secret Sales Guy would probably use it to pound out another commission

The Devil’s Work
I was just reading back through the Secret Sales Guy archive, and boy—until now, I had no idea just how depraved Your Man on the Inside sounds. Obsessed with money. Bitter, perhaps? Maybe. I suppose that when you’re doing the Devil’s work, there are times when the dark rewards don’t outweigh the means by which you earn them.

To further the good/evil theme I seem to be building here, I should mention that I always wanted to be a carpenter (yes, just like Jesus). You see, at the end of a tough day, the carpenter gets to see the result of his labor. The amount and quality of his work are on display for the world to see. There is no mystery in carpentry.

Conversely, at the end of my day, it is impossible to tell how many widgets or DVD players I have helped to sell. How many faulty pieces of software? How many overpriced laptops?

 

The carpenter knows that thousands of meals will be set upon the dinner table he constructs; one can see the patina of life in the scrape from a steak knife, the ring left from a glass of beer. When the owner of the beloved family dinner table dies, his heirs will squabble over its disposition—after all, this simple piece of carved wood has, through time and use, become more than the sum of its parts.

The July issue of my magazine will be unceremoniously chucked in the trash in a few weeks time.

For those of us on the business side of publishing, our fulfillment comes in the form of the monthly commission check and the occasional year-end bonus. There, written unmistakably to the right of a dollar sign, is the validation of all of our hard work—its worth easily quantified by the social status of our peers, the sticker price on our automobile, and the hotness of our respective significant others.

Cynical? Perhaps. But I can barely swing a hammer, so how the hell would I pull off being a carpenter, anyway?

Do Not Feed Media Sales Guy
Leave it to my editor to call this column “SalesRants.” In a retrospective mood, I looked even further back into the archives. The name is oddly apropos. Maybe it’s a good angle—that whole Glengarry, Glen Ross thing. A ranting, egomaniacal salesman, hellbent on his next commission check—ready to say or do anything to close the next sale.

This column is basically a freak show. Go ahead… Peek behind the curtain, and have a look at the simpering maniac. Please don’t put your fingers through the bars, folks, unless they’re filled with crisp hundred dollar bills.

Do editorial, production, and marketing people have a similar outlook? Are they also cynical, putting in their 10 hours a day with nothing else in mind but their own advancement?

Or, do I have it completely wrong? Might I be speaking with a larger voice? Do editorial, production, and marketing people have a similar outlook? Are they also cynical, putting in their 10 hours a day with nothing else in mind but their own advancement—working to quell that constant, nagging feeling, reminding them that a minute wasted is a dollar less earned?

I could really give a shit, to be honest. You want to know how we sales folks really, truly feel? You want a peek inside the media sales cage? Better read the sign before the curtain draws open, so at least you’ll know what to expect:

1) Do not feed the Media Sales Guy—he has already eaten a hearty lunch with one of his many clients.
2) The material on the floor of the cage is editorial, or filler. That’s what goes in between the ads we sell.
3) The production department exists to give us deadlines, so we can sell more ads in the magazine. We can get them fired, but not the other way around.
4) Beware of the Publisher. He is not your friend—he is just another salesperson, but with more “side duties.”
5) Do not respond if the salesman approaches you with offers of “remnant space.” That is just a way of selling you a cheap ad without shame.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/12/2006]

SalesRants 6: Big Media on the Block

B2B publishing outfits are being sold left and right—is Secret Sales Guy’s next?

Thank You for Your $upport
Let’s be honest, shall we? Secret Sales Guy (SSG) didn’t leave his comfy editorial position to go into sales because he loves it. No, sir. Secret Sales Guy has a cute wife who didn’t grow up on the Lower East Side—a wife who expects a regularly scheduled manicure, pedicure, and dye job. He also has two lovely children, who expect and deserve an education at the college of their choice (well, since they’re only in preschool, let’s just assume that they’ll expect it soon enough).

In fact, ever since leaving New York city, Secret Sales Guy has seemed to inherit two of everything: two kids, two cars, two dogs, and even a manly pair of love handles. Let’s not forget the monthly commuter pass, Metrocard, lunch money, school payments, babysitting, and anything and everything else that requires a modest amount of bread to capitalize. Anyway, you know the next part. SSG now has to find a way to pay for all of that so he can stay married, keep oil in the burner, and eat meat at regularly scheduled intervals.

 

In publishing, keeping this whole enterprise afloat ain’t too easy. At the very low end of six figures, I occupy a fairly annoying demographic position: people who are statistically “rich” but, by East Coast standards, live a fairly cash-strapped and frustrating existence. Despite the fact that the monthly commission check has been fairly chunky of late, most of it is well spent before it hits my bank account, and there’s a long list of people lined up to take a piece of it. Luckily, SSG has been lucky in real estate (like everyone else), so he knows that upon death, there may be something for the family to fall back on. For now, it’s root, hog or die.

So, dear reader. don’t underestimate the casual way SSB approaches sales. He may appear nonchalant, but that next big program he sells you just may mean the difference between pasta and beer versus a nice ribeye and a decent bottle of Cabernet. Agencies and clients: Won’t you please support SSG?

The Friendly Buys
I just read that a bunch of private equity guys finally bought a big competitor of Big Media Company, Dutch publishing conglomerate VNU. The owner of Nielsen (the TV ratings people), AdWeek (the well-written, yet somehow annoying media magazine), and a bunch of other prime periodicals, data companies, and trade shows. My beloved Big Media Company is probably champing at the bit to do the same. With print sales taking a bath and new media money not pouring in for publishers like everybody said it would, it’s time to get the hell out. Or, maybe, time to buy something else.

Coming on the heels of other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot.

Coming on the heels of the Primedia deal, Hanley Wood, and some other groundbreaking B2B media deals, VNU’s sale was no surprise. Those private equity guys are about as gentle as an 18th century proctologist, to boot. Thomas H Lee, KKR, and Blackstone Group are all about the people, aren’t they? I can picture them, sitting around the old Polycom conference call unit, big jugs of Voss designer water in front of them, talking about how they can improve the company health plan and add an extra percentage point or two to the 401K matching contribution.

We’ll see how long it takes them to lop off a few choice divisions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my beloved Big Media Company doesn’t end up with a few of them. You know what they say: If you can’t grow revenue on your own, you can buy your way into some. Buy a few mags, fire all of their back-office and production staff, and double up your own staff’s workload. Same fixed costs—double the productivity!

Sure, you’ll lose about 25 percent to attrition, but the job market’s tough for the low-end employee, and there are plenty of folks out there willing to brave a four-hour round trip commute to make $35,000 a year. Now you’re talking about real margins. The important thing is, what does this mean for your loyal and dedicated Secret Sales Guy? Will I get another magazine to run? Will Big Media Company follow VNU’s lead and start shopping my magazines around? Stay tuned…

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/5/2006]

SalesRants 5: The 2.5 Percent Solution

Swapping an editorial gig for ad sales in order to write? Doesn’t make sense to Anonymous either, but he’s living it

“Shut the F@#$ up, Trudy!”
More training today. this time on CRM. That’s “customer relationship management,” by the way. The way it works is, Big Media Company spends a few hundred thousand dollars on a piece of software that tells you when to call your customers. You put in names, addresses, your client’s daughter’s name and age, underwear size, etc. Then, when you give him a ring about the August issue, you can bullshit a little and pretend you care about his family, all the while looking up his sales history, sock color preference, and any other thing they can load into the program through SAP or whatever general ledger software Big Media Company happens to be running.

During the class—mandatory for anyone earning over $50,000 at the Company, incidentally—some lady named Trudy* actually starts bitching about it. Things haven’t been right since we rolled up the new CRM application, she says. There’s no help desk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Does this ridiculous, menial, little peon—from accounts receivable, of all departments—really think she is “speaking truth to power” here?

The CRM consultant—who happens to be a Big Media Company Player through and through—issues Trudy the old “let’s talk out your work-related issue, even though you and I both know nothing will change the software rollout” invitation, and asks her for more information. It’s a damn shame he can’t say what his eyes are telling me he wants to say.

 

His exact words are, “That’s an interesting observation, Trudy. I’ll bet, when the rollout is complete, we can find you a CRM software person to sit down with your team and get everybody up to speed. Let’s discuss this in more detail offline, and we’ll get to the bottom of this training issue. Anyone else want to share a similar experience?”

What he wants to say goes a little like: “Shut the fuck up and read the manual like everyone else.” But he doesn’t cave to the urge. Oh, well. Can’t wait for the “Violence in the Workplace” mini-session next week!

The 2.5 percent Solution

A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another “i,” Bob Cratchit.
—Charles Dickens

I love Big Media Company. After capping annual raises at 2.5 percent a year sometime back in 1973, we have editors at our company who literally bring a can of Friskies to work for lunch. With gas at $8 a gallon, the price of cigarettes going through the roof, and the general expense living in New York creates, the 2.5 percent raise policy means that, with inflation, the Big Media employee effectively gets a pay cut each year. Half of our guys live in Brooklyn—and not the nice part either (unless you know something about the J train that I don’t).

Not everybody’s hurting, though. The sales guy who’s consistently bringing in the cash isn’t complaining—and when he is, the boss usually busts his ass to find that extra $10 grand to placate him so he doesn’t have to go through the hell of hiring and training somebody else.

Editors? Slap them in front of a Mac and a telephone, and throw them a decent pizza party every once in a while, and you’re good to go. There are a billion budding Noam Chomskys ready to “cut their teeth” with some “good writing experience” at Big Media Company. It makes me sick.

That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. It was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

I used to be an editor. I remember the day I switched to sales. It was when I recommended a guy I knew as a salesman for a job at my magazine. He came in knowing fuck-all about the Industry, and started off making about $40,000 more than me right off the bat—all before he had even sold his first ad. That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. Not coincidentally, it was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

Although I still regret the day I left editorial, it’s pretty much been steady roast beef on a roll with extra lettuce and tomato every since, and that Friskies can hang out in the cabinet until I get a cat.

I guess my English teacher knew what he was talking about. He told us to get a job as a garbage man (or anything providing a steady income), so we could afford to write. If you want to be a writer, why not be an ad salesman to pay the bills?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/28/2006]

SalesRants 4: Quid Pro Quo

“Julie” and “Bob” help our adman on the inside master the nuances of sales etiquette

Managing Up(s) and Down(s)
It’s a beautiful Friday morning, and I’m in bright and early putting the final touches on a PowerPoint for Boss. Boss is an older man, sort of an ex-hippie creative type with decent industry rep, but somewhat scattered and disdainful of the spotlight. Boss lets me “do my thing” and I let him do his. “My thing” is selling stuff and numbers and management. “His thing” is talking to Buck*, the Group Underboss (who is the Group Boss’ bitch). I manage up, Boss manages up, and everything we have to say gets synopsized into a handy three bullet-point summary for Senior Management.

The process goes something like this: CEO asks, “What’s going on?” Message filters down to Group Boss, who emails Group Underboss, asking, “What’s up with sales?” Underboss parses this, and mass-emails every publisher in the group his interpretation of Group Underboss’ question, which he translates as: “Please send me a comprehensive report on your first six months—including details of every revenue center—with detailed notes, forecasts, and projections for the next 3 months, years, and decades.”

Publisher (a.k.a. Boss) forwards me the email, and I spend three days composing a variety of spreadsheets and supporting documents laying out the business model for the next century, with a particular emphasis on the next month or so. I send this back to Boss, with a note: “Okay with this?” Boss emails in reply: “Are these numbers legitimate?” While I’m not really sure of what I put in, my reply reads: “Solid as a rock, Boss.”

 

Boss then sends those rock-solid numbers back to Group Underboss, who asks what the three top points we want to highlight are, returning my PowerPoint and 11-tab supporting Excel document to Boss. Boss forwards this note to me, asking that I whittle down the presentation that took three days to put together to an email consisting of three bullet points. I send the bullet points, pasted within an email, to Group Underboss, who doesn’t reply.

Three weeks later, Group Underboss informs us that we need to make another $200,000 in the third quarter because unrelated magazines in our Group aren’t doing so hot. We put it into the budget, even though we know we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it. Nothing is ever said about the original presentation I slaved over, so I archive it on the server, deleting the 22-megabyte file from my hard drive.

Scenario #1
I have spent the better part of an hour on our intranet site, taking a required course on sexual harassment. Comprised of helpful online videos (whose set design and production quality are bizarrely reminiscent of a high-budget porn film circa 1985), quizzes, and “refresher units,” the course serves as a welcome departure from the morning’s usual sales reporting.

In Scenario #1, “Julie,” a comely office denizen roughly 35 years of age, is working with her line manager “Bob” on a proposal. They are pitching a massive sale of copiers to ACME Business Corp, and Bob brings up the idea of meeting “Mr. Zeberdee,” ACME’s top purchasing agent.

Julie remarks that while she’s only been in touch with “Ethan,” Zeberdee’s purchasing manager, it would be great to meet with Zeberdee himself, if Bob thinks that would help close the deal. Bob’s response: “You know, Julie, Zeberdee’s single, and the last time he was in the office, he asked about you.” Bob goes on, reckoning that old Zeberdee would be “putty in Julie’s hands” after a social rendezvous. What does Julie think? Would she mind meeting Zeberdee for dinner and drinks to help them, as Bob so delicately puts it, “close this puppy?”

I can barely believe what I’m watching, and jack up the volume into my headphones, subconsciously afraid someone will notice my profound enjoyment and assume I actually am looking at porn. Will Julie do it? She doesn’t exactly strike me as demure. Come to think of it, the last time I saw that much green eye shadow on a woman in a skirt suit, she hit me up for five bucks.

Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Alas, the video stops right before the dénouement with the multiple-choice pop quiz. What should Julie do—what should she say to Bob? As I wait for the answer choices to appear on my screen, the suspense is downright paralyzing.

I consider going with, “(D): There is nothing wrong with Bob asking Julie to participate in an non-work related dinner, since Julie is single and may appreciate the introduction.” Exactly. Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—and you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Instead, I select, “(A): It would be inappropriate for Bob to ask Julie to attend a social engagement with Bob, especially after Mr. Zeberdee indicated a romantic interest in Julie. This would constitute a form of quid pro quo sexual harassment.” I contemplate going back to the video for a “refresher unit,” but reluctantly move on to Scenario #2.

What will that kooky Bob and Julie get up to next?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/21/2006]

SalesRants 3: Big Man, Small Ball

This week, reverse psychology’s the name of the game for our ad man on the inside.

Big Marketing Man

Eric Blumstein* is staring at me over the top of his Diet Coke (no fruit) and telling me in no uncertain terms how important he is. With me is Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, and I’m not exactly sure he’s getting just how big a prick Blumstein is being.

Having just put in his first year, Blumstein’s about the fourth man down the marketing totem pole at Big Electronics Company. His boss’ timely promotion has left him holding the keys to a fairly sizable marketing budget, a portion of which is responsible for 5 percent of our total annual gross revenue. Bottom line? Without Blumstein’s complete enthusiasm for the majority of our elaborate, big-money sponsorships and programs, we’re in serious trouble. Therefore, we must acknowledge Blumstein’s marketing wisdom and let him dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” he wants to. So far, Blumstein seems determined to do a whole lot of crossin’ and dottin’ before the fall media-buying season.

Sporting a wannabe-hipster goatee and carefully arranged hair meant to simulate bedhead, Blumstein takes a measured sip of his diet soda and brushes an errant piece of tuna tartar from his chin. I am deep into my second scotch-and-soda of this casual meeting and trying to let Rod, Blumstein’s direct sales rep, absorb most of his blather. At one point, Blumstein actually says “Everything goes through me.” Wow. This bastard is cocky as hell. However, it could be a reaction to our selling a sizable sponsorship behind his back to his ad agency.

As Blumstein goes on, it is hard not to think about the fact that my assistant probably outearns him, and I chastise myself for such a base notion. Later on, I think of this when I start the 90-slide PowerPoint presentation that will be the price of admission into Blumstein’s marketing party. God, this is no way to live.

**

Small Ball
Do you sell ads? Then you know this hoary old chestnut as well as the next space representative: “There is no bigger pain in the ass than the small advertiser.” Yes, it’s true. You’ll sell a $500,000 program (large, even by No. 1 Industry Mag standards) in a week to Grey Advertising or OMD, and never hear from them again until the next quarter. But, dare to sell an 1/8-page B&W vertical to Small Company, and they will call incessantly at all hours of the night. You can count on this more than the fact that I am going to start my day with a Camel Filter and a cup of coffee (black and sweet, just like World’s Most Amiable Sales Director Rod).

 

The small company can’t really afford the ad in the first place (which is why they pay up front); is actually genuinely counting on the ad to bring them business (now they call it “ROI”); and is counting on glorious No. 1 Industry Mag to partner with them to raise their fortunes in the business. By the time the negotiations are over and you factor in all the long-distance phone calls, time spent, and the occasional T&E, you have generally lost money on the ad. The kicker? If Small Company doesn’t sell a dozen widgets or whatever (which they track mercilessly using “ad codes” and the like), then you will never hear from them again—they’ll be in No. 3 Industry Mag, where the 1/8-pages are selling briskly at $250 each, rather than the $1,850 a pop you command.

How about not selling them at all? I’m trying this now, based on this book about “firing your customers.” Perversely, once you tell clients that you don’t need their business, they stop negotiating and buy something. The old reverse psychology never fails, does it? Now, if I can only figure out how to make the bastards stop calling Rod.

**

Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director
I am sitting with Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, at an Italian restaurant in the West 20s. We are having our monthly lunch with Tad Tramanto, one of our smaller, but more regular advertisers. Rod is wearing his uniform: a crisply pressed Brooks Brothers striped button-down under a handsome blue blazer, a pair of dressy blue jeans, and some expensive English bench made lace-ups. Maintaining “office casual” attire is something Rod does extremely well, unlike many of our colleagues at Big Publishing Company.

Rod is top boy at No. 1 Industry Mag, and has been bringing in close to $2 million annually for the past several years—a Herculean sales effort for a niche book like ours—and one that brings Rod a respectable, but not extravagant, salary that edges just above the six-figure mark. Along with his salary, Rod receives a healthy benefits package, a decent T&E account, a laptop computer, 20-odd vacation and personal days, and the promise that Big Publishing Company’ll clink the retirement jar to the tune of a 5 percent matching contribution. It’s not a king’s ransom by any stretch of the imagination, but it has afforded Rod a decent lifestyle and, not to be discounted, a sense of stability and predictability not easy to find in New York’s volatile job market.

Hailing from South America by way of London, Rod is an extremely handsome black man of refinement and culture, well-spoken, and possessed of real charm. He is, in a word, amiable—the perfect salesman.

I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

Rod’s sales history and account list reveals his ability to attract—and, more importantly, keep—advertising clients. Rod rarely gets a new one, but when he does, they usually stick around for a while. Rod’s client base is like a thriving garden, one which he tends and nurtures on a daily basis. Because of his well-tended client base, Rod’s one of a select breed of salespeople who can pull in favors when they’re needed, and I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

When you are competing against 10 other magazines, a big part of whether you get the business comes down to relationships. Rod’s specialty is creating and nurturing those relationships to the point where he’s not just a salesperson, but a trusted confidant, adviser, and—more often than not—friend. This is something that cannot be trained into a salesperson: either you’ve got it or you don’t. Every magazine needs a Rod—preferably two or three of them.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/14/2006]

SalesRants 2: Glanda the Bad Witch

Our ad man on the inside divulges how the magazine sales world turns

Buck* and the Heinous Gap Button-Down
The hangover is tremendous, almost biblical. The first number I see on my phone this morning is Buck, the Underboss. Buck is a handsome gay man in his early forties, trying to hold down the corporate look with his own personal flair. That means an Armani two-button suit with the jacket left at home, and a $280 Zegna dress shirt unbuttoned 2 notches to reveal a manly, yet manicured, patch of chest hair. Despite the fact that I consider myself the epitome of the man’s man—with a slight paunch conveying the gravitas of my over 40 years, yet athletic enough to reach a basketball rim with a modicum of effort—I am cowed by the mere sight of extension 8495 on my QualComm handset.

It could be the budget. As the owner of our $10,000,000 P&L, I am expected to know—with utter authority—what is going on in the business at any time. At this point, I barely know what month it is, never mind the expected revenues in June or, perhaps, why our sales T&E is trending 30 percent above average, year-to-date. Vegas comes to mind, and my heartburn shifts from low-grade churn to storm-tossed ship. I’m starting to get the mouth-sweats.

Buck can’t format his PowerPoint for the CEO. Everything he tries to cut-and-paste comes up with the wrong alignment. Will I pop by and have a look? I realize that, thanks to my tendency to leave the house with exactly eight minutes to get to the railroad station, I haven’t been to the dry cleaner in three weeks. My sartorial situation has become so grim that I’m currently sporting a Gap button-down approximately one neck size too small and three years out of date. Buck will definitely notice. Goddamn it.

I wipe the sheen of hangover sweat from my forehead and trudge into Buck’s office to help fix his presentation.

**

Glanda the Bad Witch
Glanda pops into my office at her usual time. In other words, a time when I am least likely to have 10 seconds to spare for her bullshit. I should have taken my laptop home last night, but the thought of schlepping it onto the subway, then taking it on another train was too much to bear. I have under 30 minutes to catch up on 50 some-odd emails before my next meeting, and only a few are the kind from Nigerian nationals that get the immediate-delete treatment.

Glanda hovers in my doorway, ready to make inane conversation and/or tell me just how hard she’s working. As one of the lazier people I’ve ever encountered (and I come from an Irish-American family from lower Manhattan), Glanda commences the day’s Recounting of the Hardships almost immediately. In at 8:30. Amazing, especially with the subways being what they were. Did the line-up-report, too. Not easy, she’ll have me know, with no additional help. As per usual, Glanda strums her tiny violin like she’s playing a Clash ballad.

Yes, it has to be done in two days. No, she can’t hire anyone—the budget is too tapped out this month. Glanda’s friendly gaze turns deadly…

I sense something amiss. Glanda seems more worked up than usual. Probably because I assigned a 1,500-piece mailing to her, and she wants to get out of it by hiring a few temps to stuff the envelopes. Yes, it has to be done in two days. No, she can’t hire anyone—the budget is too tapped out this month. Glanda’s friendly gaze turns deadly, and suddenly she is looking at me as though I just murdered the family pet.

“Happy Assistant’s Day,” she snarls. Oh, shit.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/5/2006]