Taking a Risk

The next day at nine Alan was at his desk looking through an agency proof book—pages of color and black and white advertisements that J Dunaway Advertising had produced, including many from his own group. He was astonished at how little marketing to business customers the agency did. “And we’re pitching an airlines account,” he thought.

“Anybody home?” Dick Fields stuck his enormous head inside Alan’s doorway. A cigar the size of a piece of pipe stuck in his mouth. Unlit, thank God.

“Sure Dick, Come on in.”

“How are we doing on the TransUS Airlines presentation?”

“Just fine.”

“I am hoping we can focus on print advertising.”

“Among other things, sure. But why the special concern, Dick?”

“That’s primarily what the company is after, I thought I mentioned it.”

No, he had not mentioned it and, although Buck and Clay had good ideas that would work in print, they had been thinking television. Dick knew the basic pitch of the advertising but nothing more. Alan had been avoiding him.

Dick had been recently appointed the number two man at the agency, overseeing new business. Alan knew he had to slow his approach to this conversation. Bank right and pull back on the throttle. No sarcasm.

“Let’s think about that, Dick. I happen to have the agency proofs right here. We don’t do much print at Dunaway.” Don’t be a smart-ass, he cautioned himself.

“Don’t we have any Intercontinental Metals proofs we could show them?”

“We don’t have that account anymore, Dick. That was five years ago.”

“That make any difference? We did the work didn’t we?”

“I don’t think it’s smart to show stuff you did for a former client.” God this guy is awful, Alan thought as he leafed through the proof book.

“Well, we’ve got to get some print from somewhere!” Fields said reproaching him.

“Dick for Christ sakes, if the agency is 85% television how the hell are we going to get some print from somewhere? Please. Let me handle the creative part of this.” Why was Dick so fixated on print? Must be feeling out of his league, Alan surmised.

“Well, do it your way, but I know Steve is going to be looking to see what we can do in print.”

“Who is Steve?”

“The ad manager for TransUS.”

“So, he makes the decision?”

“That’s my guess.”

What an answer, Alan thought. The account man’s job was to know the informal client hierarchy. Alan had that sinking feeling, the one that pulled at him more and more these days. His heart thumped in his chest. He realized he was holding his breath.

“I need to get back to work, Dick.”

“We’ll have a run-through, of course.” The statement was half question and half order.

“What’s to run through, Dick? We’ve done this before. You know how I present. You’ve heard the idea.”

Of course, his plan was to have Buck Jones present, the two of them had planned it out the day before. Alan would introduce the presentation, teasing the client’s sensibilities, and then Buck would take over, showing the boards—a strong contrast in voice and outlook, Buck’s all-American to Alan’s refined New York executive.

Alan was sure TransUS was looking for something bold and adventurous for advertising their cross-continental routes. Dunaway would give them more than that. But Dick would never go for Buck Jones giving the pitch. He might obstruct them if he knew of the plan. Would a phony run-through work? If they had to they would surprise him, flatter him throughout, and by the end, when the two pilots were nodding their heads, Dick would insist it was all him.

“This is a different kind of account.” Fields replied.

“You bet it is and we have it wrapped up. When’s the meeting?”

“Thursday at twelve.”

“Where?”

“My office.” Fields finally lit the foot long cigar. The first puff rolled towards Alan’s desk. Right at him.

“Your office is a little formal don’t you think?” Alan asked with restraint. Dick Field’s office was one big Currier and Ives horse print.

“Well, we can have lunch there and then go to the creative conference room for your part.”

“Why don’t we do the creative part first, then have lunch?”

“Because that’s not the way I want to do it. I’ll see you then.” Fields stepped out the door.

Alan turned to face the window and watched a tug pulling a barge filled with rubbish down the East River. Yesterday he had felt momentarily inspired by Buck’s enthusiasm, he too had wanted to show this major airlines client what he was worth—he had wanted to take a risk for a change! Now he felt a gray uncertainty descend. Maybe I should do this one by the book, he thought now. Do what Fields wants, present the reel, show some print, tell a few case histories. Alan felt helpless. They wouldn’t get the business, not with this guy.

© Lisa Anderson 2017

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