Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Sales meeting: A time of unspeakable psychological horrors.

Sales meeting is a gathering of marketing managers and sales representatives to unveil new titles, discuss strategy, and outline objectives. In the weeks leading up to the sales meeting, marketing comes to advertising with requests for nine hundred brochures, eighty flyers, and six thousand little one-page "product guides" to use in their presentations to the sales force.

Sales meeting projects are like gnats. Small, unassuming, and easy to handle -- until they all come at you at once, swarming and biting and crawling into the corners of your eyes until you are finally driven mad, pleading for death upon your knees.

In years past, I've always taken a certain amount of pride in being able to produce whatever marketing needed, because they seemed so desperate. "For the love of Christ!" they'd plead, "Please! Can I get this in time for the sales meeting? We NEED this for the sales meeting!"

And so I imagined my brochure in a spotlight at the front of an auditorium, glowing with impeccable writing, being held aloft by a marketing manager for all the eager reps to see. "The textbook itself is not as well written as this brochure!" he'd cry, the end of his sentence drowned out by thunderous applause and cheers.

Last year, sales meeting was held in town, so the creatives were able to attend. I brought along an extra pen in case I was asked to autograph any of the brochures I'd written, and I kept my sunglasses with me in case I was mobbed by admiring reps and needed to make a quick, anonymous exit.

So I picked up my name tag at the front desk of the hotel, Hi, my name is... Squeaky Weasel, Copywriter, and proudly fastened it to my sweater. As I turned around, I nearly bumped into a tall, skinny, designer-suit-wearing girl who nudged past me and announced her name to the front desk clerk, who handed her a name tag. As she was pinning it, she glance up at me and smiled broadly. "Isn't this fun! I don't think I saw you at the bar last night. I'm Shana, west-central region. What's--" At that moment, her eye fell on my tag and her entire demeanor seemed to step up onto an invisible pedestal so she could conveniently look down her nose at me. Her smile turned to plastic. "Oh, you're with marketing?" she patronized, and then turned on her heel and Prada-ed off toward the meeting rooms.

I soon learned that it was even worse that she'd assumed. In the sales meeting pecking order, I was even lower than marketing. I was advertising, barely worthy of more acknowledgement than the hardening edges of the cheddar cheese cubes on the veggie platters in the lobby.

But the final blow came during the strategy sessions, where I'd been told my brochures would illustrate all the features of the new textbooks. I took my place in one of the chairs lining the wall (my "place" -- out of the way) in a room where marketing and sales gathered around a long conference room table. The marketing manager flipped through some notebooks, talked about numbers, then finally -- finally -- I saw her reach into a binder and withdraw what I recognized as my beautifully written brochure. She tossed it down on the table in front of her and continued to talk. No one so much as glanced at it. No one opened it, no one read it, no one used it. It laid forgotten on the table until the end of the meeting, when the marketing manager said, "Okay, that's it! I have a brochure you can look at if anyone's interested. Otherwise... thanks, people!" The brochure was summarily tucked back into her binder and everyone crowded out toward the exits.

Later, I caught up with my fellow creatives, all huddled in a tight circle in one of the hallways passing around copies of each other's work and trading kudos. "I got copies from marketing of everything we did!" said my boss, as if that made our presence there worthwhile. She handed me one of mine. "This one was a real hit!"

By "hit" I assumed she meant that no one had actually thrown hardened cheddar cheese cubes at it. I took it and held it up in front of me, trying to see whether it looked more impressive in a hotel setting than it had in my office the day before. I imagined a spotlight on it, applause, congratulatory pats and handshakes. It was still just a brochure. I opened it and read through the familiar copy.

Good copy should be invisible. Its job is to create a picture in the reader's head without the reader even being aware of the words that put it there. If that's the case, my invisible brochures do their job, and I just have to slip on my sunglasses every now and then to the roar of imagined applause.

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