POST-OP WEEKS 106 - 109
It was probably spring of ‘08, March maybe. (About a year before my near heart attack) My creative director came up to me during some focus groups, during a break, and told me they were interviewing “someone for me,” an art director who had direct-to-consumer experience, someone of my caliber, he said. They were going to hire her; they were just negotiating salary. Hold on, he told me, she’d be starting real soon.
Her name was Voldemort (not really, but I’m calling her that here). And, yeah, she was professional. Like me, Voldemort was different than the rest of the creatives. She was used to doing things the way the Big Boys did them. She talked the talk.
In most regular consumer agencies, a writer worked with one art director exclusively. You were like married couples. In fact, I heard the word they used in Italy to describe ad creative teams translated to “couples.” It didn’t matter if the writer was a guy and the AD a woman. Or the other way around. It could be 2 guys or 2 women. A gay guy and a straight woman. Whatever. But, like angelfish, you pretty much stayed paired forever. Or at least for a very long time. You’d work together, quit together, interview at another place together.
At this pharmaceutical agency, they encouraged us to mix it up and, in fact, our bosses assigned us to jobs with different people on purpose. I’m not sure why but I always thought it was a power thing--- creative teams at regular agencies had a lot of power together. After I’d been broken up with my old partner at Burnett, I was fairly impotent.
So here was this Voldemort. Attractive, long reddish hair, slight Southern accent. She was confident when she presented. In fact, early on, we both got sent to this “presentation seminar” that was routine for certain people they thought had potential to be in front of clients more than the others. We spent two days with 8 or 10 other writers and art directors learning how to speak up and not say “um” or where to put our hands. She didn’t have much trouble at any of it, and, neither did I, I guess. (Everyone told me I did a great job presenting, and I probably did, but I can never remember what I said after I present something. I always thought it was an improv thing.)
We started working together, exclusively, on concept pitches for new accounts, not so much on day-to-day stuff. Other people in the group noticed, a few teased: “what? Are you going to work on new ideas with Voldemort?”
We came up with a couple of things that everyone loved, the CEO noticed them. (one was a woman with a lava lamp as a midsection so you could see her acid reflux and how it was helped by a dose of the product.) The clients liked them. Then they went into consumer testing and didn’t come out alive. But they kind of don’t hold that against you at this agency, so we were the heroes, the hot team, unstoppable.
We’d scheme and plot together and figure out ways to get more work through. She, in the meantime, was starting to piss other people off, starting with her boss, (I’ll call him Her Boss). She’d go off and do things on her own, make decisions without consulting him six times first. He was an art director, too. Although, apparently, this was his first actual art director job, I think. He was a medical illustrator before he came to this place.
At the time I thought Her Boss was controlling and not used to his underlings being able to do the job better than he can. Voldemort, on the other hand, was trained in the outside world where creative teams at our level were pretty much left alone to do their job, with only the occasional “check-in.” It was that way at Burnett. We just went off and made commercials, talked to the client, and only check in with our creative director here and there.
The other thing was, I kept telling myself, was that in Voldemort’s old job, the one she left to come to our place, she was a creative director. Yeah, it was a small agency, they did a lot of print ads and mailers and stuff, but she was the boss. She had a group. She used to drop that from time to time, stuff about “her group.” “It was at times like these,” she’d share with me. “That I’d take my whole group out to lunch. Sure I’d have to ask them to work the weekend or something, but at least I took care of them.”
Over months, in her office or mine, at an airport or at dinner with clients, Voldemort would drop other things. She was a “topper.” If you broke your arm in high school, she broke her tailbone during a cheerleading stunt. Stuff like that.
Voldemort told me:
She had a brown belt in karate.
She took 6 to 10 years of ballet. (That’s why her feet are screwed up: all that “toe”)
She was a competitive cheerleader for as many years (that’s how she broke her tailbone).
When she was a kid, she could’ve been a pro-golfer, she was that good, her dad forced her to take lessons so much that one day she just up and quit!
She was an English major but ended up working as an art director.
She won some sort of prize for her writing in fact, she was that good, she told me. (although as time went on I found out it was in grade school)
Voldemort’s Linked In page says: Copywriter? Art Director? Yep, I do both. It’s a matter of opinion which I do better. Personally. I fancy them equally. I believe this is what makes me a fantastic Creative Director. And on and on. (I should’ve checked this out right away, right when I started working with her.)
She had worked in small agencies before ours. She didn’t come out and say that, but after I Googled the names, I came to find out they were all 50-people and under places. In St. Louis and smaller cities. This isn’t a bad thing, I guess, but small agencies have a different vibe, a different structure. Burnett had 2000+ employees--- just in one building, downtown. There were 4000 more spread around the rest of the world.
She talked a good game, workwise. Dropping client names like K-Mart and Lear Jet. A well-known liquor company and Gerber. But as she repeated the stories in meeting after meeting, you could put together the picture: she was doing direct mail campaigns or some little on-the-street promo thing. Not a lot of TV and not a lot of print.
I didn’t talk that much about myself. I’d tell stories, I guess. She’d laugh and laugh at them.
Slowly, she was pissing more people off. She and Her Boss clashed almost daily over something or other. She was fighting with other superiors. It was almost always about her wanting control. Eventually, no one got along with her--- except me. I didn’t seem to have any problem. I was on her side at this point. At Burnett I had more control, in fact, it was all about autonomy and responsibility, and so control. And, I think, to a certain extent, the powers that be wanted to give us control. But, one by one, she pissed people off.
Then we actually had to produce something. They gave us an assignment. Unlike other agencies, this place has this process where a TON of creatives all come up with concepts and they put them in a pile. The “managers” sort though them, and the CEO looks them over and picks some to show the client. Then they designate a writer/art director team who’s sort of “in charge” of the project. In this case, that would be us.
Voldemort and I came up with concepts, lots and lots of concepts, ten, maybe, in all. I maybe should’ve seen those signs, but she just wanted to do idea after idea: quantity versus quality. I think she was trying to increase her odds of getting something picked. That was real important to her. I tend to work up 1 or 2 really good ones and concentrate all my attention on those.
So idea after idea died until there were only two left in the mix of eight that went to the client. Both of them made it through that gauntlet to went into testing with consumers. Only one of those made it out alive.
We were still working pretty well together at this point, give and take. We were working like all creative teams I know (and this place was no different)--- writers had certain duties and art directors had others. Rarely did they poke their noses into the other person’s responsibilities.
She told me more things about herself:
She told me how her husband wasn’t earning enough money and how they had to scrimp and save.
She’d show me the shoes she just bought to treat herself. When I’d lend her the CD I took out of the library, she’d call me a dork for not just going out and buying it.
She told me how the BBC just bought an idea she had for a reality TV show.
She was collecting quotes and funny stories (sometimes my funny stories from my funny life) to use when she got around to writing that sit-com about 3 women living in the same 3-flat apartment who were at various stages of relationships.
She’d ask every new woman who got hired into the group out to lunch, I guess, so they could talk, she could bond. Maybe she was scoping them out and wanted to get them away from the office so they’d be more candid. (She asked me a couple of times to go, but I always refused.)
She’d tell me how the bartender at this nearby upscale restaurant gave her a free drink.
She’d tell me how some man, a stranger, paid for her lunch one day when she was “treating herself” to mussels and red wine at the same restaurant.
I’d tell her about the guy I know that rides the train downtown with me who’s having an affair and how I met his wife. “Like I need an affair right now in my life,” she replied, out of the blue.
I told her that when she writes her autobiography, she should call it: “Confessions of an Over-Achiever.” She was flattered, though I didn’t quite mean it the way she took it.
We had to make 2 animatics for the spots that survived so they could move on to the next round of testing (and at the time a 3rd one, just in case). Animatics are cartoon storyboards, video-taped to look like a fakey commercial--- with voices, music, sound effects, anything that can help consumers understand them. The agency produced maybe 2 of these so far in their career. I had done 30, 50, 100. Voldemort, I couldn’t tell you.
She started talking to art production places to draw the visuals. I’d go along to some of the meetings. Her Boss would, too. Needless to say, Voldemort and Her Boss clashed almost every hour on the hour. There was always something she didn’t want to do, sometimes just because he wanted to do it. Their arguments got quite heated at times…
I picked some voiceover actors without any trouble and I had our producer get in touch with a music production house in Chicago I had used many times in the past and had a good relationship with. They sent over samples, we went back and forth, while I gave them direction. While normally art directors don’t come along to talk to music houses (just like storyboards, i.e. visuals fall under the heading of Art Director’s responsibilities and music fell under the copywriter’s) we invited Voldemort along with us, as a courtesy. They were buying us lunch, that’s always something you want to spread around.
We get there and I’m chatting, I hadn’t seen these guys in a while. I start talking music styles and they do, too. Voldemort, thinking back, was oddly silent. I’d ask her what she thought and she wouldn’t say much. We went on to produce 2 tracks for the 2 main spots. I liked the music, my boss liked the music and my boss’ boss.
Once those were moving along, we started working on making the animatic for the 3rd, just-in-case idea. Her Boss gets involved again and the fur flies. Voldemort fighting Her Boss for control. Then the subject of music came up. Voldemort says she didn’t like the music we ended up with on the other two spots; she didn’t like the place I picked. She wants to use another one; this one’s in L.A. I don’t know how we ended up switching, but we did. To keep her happy, we gave into Voldemort …
Then she really kicks into high gear. She starts pulling songs from her CD collection. They’re “hip,” indie, guitar tracks--- which were really wrong for the spots. She kept making it seem like she had an equal say in all this. I actually discussed it with her. I think this is where she told me that at her OLD agency, they always collaborated and art people chose music.
It finally ended up somehow with her having a bunch of songs she liked for her direction. We set up a meeting in my office, with the door closed. Voldemort, Her Boss, my boss, and me. Suddenly Her Boss chimes in with a list of songs HE’s put together. I just play them, without discussion. He thinks they’re just what we need. My boss hardily agrees… I’m waiting for Voldemort to clash like she always does with Her Boss, if only for old time’s sake. But, instead, she takes their side! She loves Her Boss’ direction, let’s send them to the music guys in L.A. What are we waiting for!!!
I’m stunned. I don’t know what to think. I was beside myself, flabbergasted, I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless. And anxious for some reason. Aggravated. This was a confrontation and I wasn’t good with confrontations, I knew this. So I voiced my weak disagreement.
Then they all agree that I should play Voldemort’s wonderful, insightful tracks and, what do you know, Her Boss loved Voldemort’s tracks, oh my God they’re perfect! My boss loves them, too. The art directors picked the music house and the direction. I tell them, still, that I think the tracks aren’t where we want to go and they say that when we call the L.A. guys, I can play a track if I want to. Even that was with a “why bother, you’ve been out-voted and your choice in music stinks.”
This is when I knew Voldemort would do anything, absolutely anything, even buddy-up with Her Boss who she despised, to get what she wanted. This is when my partnership with Voldemort changed. Completely.
TO BE CONTINUED…
diary continues March, 2011...