by Dennis Daniel
Survival. How do we do it? How do we put up with the vast array of insanity, insensitivity, and constant demand to be a genius for some local shoe store? How do we survive the assault?!
Well, for my part, all I can tell you is this...build a wall.
You can’t let these clients or salespeople get to you. You must rise above all the petty BS and look at the big picture. In order to do our job and earn a living, we need clients and salespeople. How else will the need for producing come to us? (I’m sure none of you wants to go out there and pitch clients! BBRRRRRRR!) In life, we are going to deal with really cool people, and we’re going to deal with really awful people. This is the way it is, no matter what you do or where you work. Complaining about it solves nothing. It just makes you look like a whining cry baby. Staying mad about it does nothing. It will not change the way people are. So, what do you do?
Build a wall.
Let me tell you a recent horror story. I have a client for whom I have been doing commercials for almost twenty years! He was the first client I ever did a spot for, and I continue to do them. He’s known me since I was eighteen! Yet, in all that time, he has never warmed up to me. It has always been strictly business. He is in a very profitable retail profession, and he’s made a fortune at it. His business ethics are, in a nutshell, “step on their necks on your way to the top.” This is a coldhearted business guy, folks. A rich, coldhearted business guy. In other words, he didn’t get rich by being a nice guy. He’s the kind of person who likes to stir up the soup. He likes to get people internally going at each other. He likes to play head games. The ol’ “who said what to who” deal. He likes to think of himself as a peacemaker when in actuality he is a warmonger. I’ve spent many an hour on the phone going over miscommunications that could have been easily solved if the level of teamwork and trust with all the principals involved was at an honest, real, human level. But, no. This is a “watch your back” atmosphere. It’s very unfortunate because I have always had my clients’ needs at heart. Always. What does it profit me to do a bad job? Still, my loyalty and ethics are constantly tested. He just doesn’t trust anyone.
One day, he came to visit with his spouse. It was an unscheduled visit. It was also on a very bad day for me. I had just found out that my mother may have cancer! (Turned out she’s fine and the tumor was benign.) I was going to visit her at lunch time and see how she was doing. Instead, I was sitting in my office with my client and his wife, who were nitpicking me about words in the spot. For example, do we use the word “massive” or “huge.” The wife felt no one would know what the word “massive” meant. Now mind you, I don’t begrudge trying to improve a spot, but the conversation, to me, was just plain ridiculous! His wife was very nice, but I thought it was kinda improper to bring her in after the fact and tear down a spot that was previously approved. Add to this my state of mind about Mom, and you can see that I was having a tough time. As much as I tried to hide my disgust, it apparently leaked through because the client called my partner to complain about my attitude.
This call upset me for two reasons: one, I’ve known him for twenty years! He couldn’t have called me first? Why not confront me? If he cared even a tiny bit, he might have asked me, “Den, you seemed really out of it. Is anything wrong?” But no. This was a strict business process. “I, the customer, am unhappy with the product (meaning me and my attitude), and I want to speak to the manager (meaning my partner, who is CEO).” Two, my partner, not wanting to upset the client, wanted me to call back and... a hum... apologize. “GAAAAA!” I bellowed. You want ME to call HIM? HE should be calling ME! HE should apologize for having his wife nitpick ME! HE should apologize for coming in, unannounced, and wreaking havoc!” (Yeah, right.)
At first, I was stunned. I couldn’t even imagine saying “I’m sorry.” Then I came to a realization. If this is the kind of person he is, if he only looks at me as a thing he buys, if the boundaries have all been drawn out in black and white, then why get upset? Why not apologize? What does it really mean to me when I’m apologizing to someone who could care less about me? If it makes him happy, if it makes him feel powerful, if it makes him a satisfied customer, then hey, no sweat! Besides, if he really did care one inch about me, he would have asked me right then and there, “Gee, Dennis, this isn’t like you. Are you okay?” So, with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, I called and said I was sorry, not only to him, but to his wife. I explained about my Mom and the reason I was so out of sorts. I asked, “In the twenty years I’ve been doing your spots, have you ever had a problem?” “No.” “And you never will again.” I’m not allowed to be a human being. I have to be a product. Fine! I’d rather it be me than someone else. I gotta eat.
The trick to surviving is understanding the nature of the beast. Period. It was no skin off my nose to say “I’m sorry” to someone who could care less whether I was alive or dead. It was like apologizing to the wall. In my heart, I know that I always do my best for all my clients. I give them all I have to give. Some take, some just dictate. As long as I know this, I’m okay. There’s nothing any client can say that will penetrate the wall. Those who want Dennis Daniel will get him mind, body, and soul. Those who want a Teflon target to bounce their brilliance on so they can say “I told you so” later is fine, too. I aim to please.
We all have to deal with our creativity and our feelings about it. As long as you build that wall, no one can tear it down. After all, it’s just a commercial.