You can literally feel it in the air. It’s as if there has been an atmospheric change in the planet’s climate; the effect of one hundred years of coal-fired, power plant emissions, belched out in an instant.
“Mr Sullivan apologises, but he is running late. He’ll be here in 30 – 40 minutes.” The Concierge tells us the news in regard to our client.
The meeting had been arranged for a few weeks. We were at Mr Sullivan’s exclusive Club in the City. So exclusive it doesn’t even have a plaque out the front. Just a door. If you haven’t been invited here, then you’re not welcome.
“He just forgot. He was on his way home,” continues the Concierge, “but he is on his way back.”
“Oh, thank you. Not a problem. We’re fine. Lucky he could spare the time.” We speak as a chorus sprouting words that try to hide our concern.
“He was here?” says Julian to Amanda and I after the Concierge leaves the room. We’re standing, nervously waiting. “He forgot? He was the one who called the meeting.”
“We’re fucked.” I say. The room temperature dropped a couple of degrees.
“Why are we here?” asks Amanda, the Advertising Agency’s account executive responsible for Mr Sullivan’s account. It’s a very large account at that.
“Excuse me once again,” says the Concierge popping around the door. “I have just heard his driver has just picked him up from home. Shouldn’t be long.”
“Thank you,” says Julian to the disappearing head.
Amanda looks over at both of us, confused “He got home? He got all the way home before even registering there was this meeting?”
“We’re fucked,” I spit out more to myself.
“Don’t be silly” says Julian trying to repair the growing fracture spreading under the building. “Why would he be thinking about firing us?”
“I didn’t say he was going to fire us.” I fired back. “Never mentioned the word. I said we’re fucked.”
“What!” Amanda exclaims as if slapped awake. “What do you mean fired? Is that why we’re here? Could that be possible? Julian, you’re the Managing Director, you should know this.”
“Stop it both of you.” Julian is pouring himself another wine. “He wouldn’t have forgotten if he was firing us. And why would he be doing that? He has only been CEO two months. We have won a lot of awards with this client. All indicators show an upside to the brand, I’ve got the research to prove it. Why would he want to fire us? It doesn’t make sense.”
Julian looks at both of us hoping for a resolution.
There is a long bead of silence before Amanda breaks back in. “So why are we here then?”
We all look at each other expressionless. Nothing. An even longer pause.
“We’re fucked,” I say.
The door bursts open and there is a flurry of action as Mr Bert Sullivan walks into the room. A man built large sideways and who demands all the oxygen in any space he enters.
“Ah, Bert” says Julian breathlessly and a little louder than he was expecting. “Good to see you. And thanks for inviting us to your Club.”
“Yes, hello Bert, this is such a beautiful building” says Amanda who I am following behind. She bends down to the much shorter Mr Sullivan exposing a good slice of cleavage.
I remember her comment before leaving the office for the Club. She asked me that question that always proceeded any important Client meeting: “Do my tits look okay?” And I responded as I always do, “Present and accounted for, Amanda. Present and accounted for!”
“Yes, yes,” says Bert Sullivan fighting out of his coat. He had a way of doing things that always had a confrontational manner to it. To deaden my dread of him in meetings, I would often try to image his cum-face as he straddled Mrs Sullivan there in the dark, grunting away (that’s Mr Sullivan grunting away. I didn’t want to imagine Mrs Sullivan grunting away. On top of him. He with his arms extended, trying to reach her backside, but his arms being too short. And going …STOP!!).
“I apologise for being late”, his tone of voice said he didn’t care. “I had a few things on my mind” obviously we didn’t rate at all amongst those things, “so let’s sit down and have a chat.”
The waiter came through, took our orders for dinner, some small entre nibbles entered and left. I don’t remember a thing we ate. I just remember how quickly the earth shifted.
“Now” said Bert, as if bringing the small talk to a halt and signifying that we talk about big-boy topics. Julian had that look on his face that said “please be gentle with me”.
“Now, you have done well thanks to our account,” continued Bert. “I understand you have won a number of awards both here in Australia and across the world.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Julian. “We are very proud of the …”
“My son,” interrupted Bert disinterested in Julian’s gloating “doesn’t like the campaign.”
“Your son, Bert?”
“Yes, Julian, my son doesn’t like your campaign. In fact he hates it.”
“Your son is how old, Bert?”
I took a long drink of whatever was in my glass. It burnt going down. It was not the effect I was after. At this point I was looking for a quick death.
“My son is 17 years old Julian.”
Amanda chocked on her cheese and biscuit and coughed it clear, “Excuse me. I’m okay.”
“He is 17 years old Julian. He’s a good boy. Smart.”
Julian looked at me before replying. He signaled he was going into a position where I was certain there was no chance of victory.
“But Bert, you sell Life Insurance to clients who are over 50. Your son is 17. We have research that shows …”
“Oh come on Julian, I know how you agencies do research. You can manipulate the results to have them tell any story you like.”
At this point I was sure I heard a loud crunching sound, like great plates of embedded organic material far off in the bowels of the earth tearing away from each other.
My mouth went dry and there was that smell of death you sometimes get when you walk into a butcher. It sits on the air soft and quiet. I saw Amanda wrinkle her nose as if she had just smelt it.
Julian was still hanging on to the lifeboat he had brought along hoping it would get us to the safety of the shore. “Bert, we have done outstanding work for your brand over the years. Work that has been recognised by both the industry and your customers. You’re our biggest client …”
“And there is the rub, Julian. We are a big client. You are a small agency.”
If only a big rift in the earth could open up and swallow me now. I thought Amanda was going to be sick. If we continued along this vein, it could be her job.
“Your agency has been good to us. It is well managed by you Julian. Our account has been well looked after by Amanda. And Joe, the creative work you oversee speaks volumes due to the award trophy’s that weigh down the cabinet in your office.”
“Thank you.” I offered to Bert’s backhanded compliment. We were getting the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. The next word was going to be …
“… but…” Bert paused. That was the word. “But …” he repeated the conjunction to make sure we got it. “… we have decided to go with George Patts. We feel that their size and available resources are more in keeping with our size and our requirements from an advertising agency.”
“George Patts?” I asked. “The most boring agency in town?”
“I think they do great work for large clients.”
“Does your son like their work?”
“Yes, he does. He particularly likes the ad with the fly called Louie. Do you know the one I mean?”
“I do” I said. “Bert, your son is a …”
“Thanks, Joe.” Interrupted Julian, still hoping there was something salvageable out of this situation. “That’s a great campaign, Bert. Tell me, is there anything that we can do to change your mind? I’m a little confused why you’ve made this decision.”
“Okay, let me make it clear,” said Bert. “Let me put it this way, Julian. It’s all about size.” He said the next sentence delivering each word with emphasis:
“Elephants. Like. To. Fuck. Elephants.”