| 30 Seconds |
By Sam Giancana and Bettina Giancana
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Marty English was on his first cup of Starbucks when he got the call. He'd been feeling pretty damned good for such a dreary winter morning he'd even taken a few minutes to lean back in his Eames leather chair and survey his plush corner office, to revel in the fact that if things kept going his way, he'd be named president of Wynn Bergman Advertising within the year.
At the thought, Marty smiled to himself, catching his reflection in the long expanse of window with its breathtaking view of Chicago's Michigan Avenue. He saw a handsome man with intensely serious eyes staring back at him, his dark hair sprinkled with gray, dressed in a charcoal pinstriped Armani suit, cut close to emphasize a lithe, muscular compactness. The carefully cultivated image conveyed confidence, a man secure with his position in life. And hell, why shouldn't he be? He was getting ready to make it to the top.
Of course, most people would've thought Marty English was already there. As executive VP of domestic operations for one of the world's largest ad agencies, he was paid over five hundred thousand dollars a year. Plus a twenty percent bonus. A merit incentive amounting to fifteen percent of his annual salary thrown into a retirement fund every year. And stock options, based on performance, worth six figures.
If he played it right, Marty could be a millionaire several times over. But this was about more than big bucks advertising held the promise of immortality: that someday, your work would be as much a part of the American culture as the Marlboro Man. Money and immortality. Shit, what more could a guy ask for?
The harsh electronic jangle of his desk phone jerked Marty out of his reverie. "Hello.... Marty English," he answered cheerfully.
"Hey, Gary, how's it going?"
Marty's smile froze on his face; there was a strange edge in the man's voice.
"Look, Marty, I wanted to be the first to tell you...uh... I've got some bad news."
On guard now, Marty stiffened and sat straight in his chair. Gary was his best contact at NHP, Marty's biggest account, worth six hundred million a year in billings. Bad news for NHP meant bad news for Marty. "Go ahead, Gary, I'm listening."
"Jeez, I'm sorry to have to drop this on you first thing in the morning, Marty, but..." he cleared his throat. "But NHP's being bought out by Hexall."
"I see," Marty said evenly, his heart pounding. "So what's the bottom line?" His voice didn't betray his anxiety.
There was a deep sigh. "The bottom line is Hexall wants their agency to take over NHP's advertising. It looks like Bergman's out, Marty. You're gonna lose the account."
Stunned, Marty slumped back in his chair. So that was it? Just like that it was all over? He could forget about the presidency? And what about all those people working on NHP's account: Were they supposed to just forget about having a job? It was inconceivable. There had to be something he could do.
"But it's not a done deal, Gary... right?" he asked pointedly. "We're going to get a shot at presenting to Hexall for the business? As NHP's marketing director, surely you can see to that. Hell, out of courtesy Bergman should get that much. . . . After all, we've handled NHP for ten years."
"I wouldn't count on it, Marty. Hexall and their agency are tight, real tight. With NHP being bought out, I'm feeling my way on this thing, too. My job's on the line here. I have to watch my step. It's probably best to face facts "
"Yeah. You're out and there's not a goddamned thing either one of us can do about it."
There was a silence on the line.
"Marty, you okay?"
Marty frowned at the phone. Was he okay? What kind of fucking question was that? A son-of-a-bitch marketing director just told him he was losing a six-hundred-million-dollar piece of business, that his fucking dreams were going down the drain. And he was supposed to be okay?
"Sure I'm okay," Marty replied smoothly, like multimillion-dollar accounts grew on trees. "Hey, business is business, right?" He managed a chuckle that sounded sincere.
"That's right. Business is business." There was another sigh. "Look, I gotta go. Things might get a little hairy around here soon. But you know I'll keep you posted."
"Thanks," Marty said woodenly. "Take care, Gary."
Marty hung up the phone and looked around his office, thinking about what a difference one damned phone call could make. His Starbucks was cold and gray in the paper cup. He could hear the tick, tick, ticking of the clock on his desk. It brought him back to earth.
Timing was everything, Marty reminded himself as he grabbed his briefcase and headed out the door. Hadn't he always believed that? So NHP was probably down the tube, but he still had an ace up his sleeve. An ace named Isaac Arrow.
In less than an hour he and his team would be pitching Arrow for its three-hundred-million-dollar pharmaceutical account. It might not be the whole enchilada, true. But it was halfway there. All he had to do was bring out the smoke and mirrors.
As the lights came up in the conference room, signaling the end of the presentation, Marty glanced down at his watch. From start to finish, the presentation had taken forty-five minutes and cost more to produce than some people made in a lifetime. It sounded crazy, even decadent, but in light of the bad news about NHP, it made perfect sense to Marty. Right now, he'd do just about anything to snag Isaac Arrow, an account that not only had a fat ad budget, but whose campaign promised to have worldwide exposure thanks to an unusual alliance with the Belizean rainforest foundation, Planetlife, and its eco-resort, Escoba.
Marty smiled at the nine Arrow executives seated before him. Usually, after a presentation, you got some indication of the way a client was leaning. But this bunch was damned near inscrutable. Hell, they even looked alike weird, nerdy guys, all of them, with backgrounds in things most people had never heard of, like nanotechnology, ethnobotany, and virtual reality with the exception of Arrow's president, Frank Torello, who, if Marty didn't know better, was really Elvis gone corporate. And then of course there was the vice president of marketing, Carson Page, a dangerously good-looking woman who looked as though she liked to play more than office politics.
Carson Page, with her leggy, curvaceous physique, flawless skin, and exquisite bone structure, took your thoughts away from any business at hand, but her probing gaze quickly alerted you to the brains and guile behind the beauty. Carson had all the right moves, all the right words, too. Marty imagined they probably had a lot in common.
As he pondered the enigma that was Carson Page, Marty felt the weight of a stare pierce his consciousness and turned to see Lee Wilde observing him coolly.
A steamroller of a woman, sixty-year-old Lee had probably been beautiful once before all those long nights as a media director spent studying Nielsen ratings and dreaming up ways to beat down the TV reps. Still, Lee had her appeal; she had a hell of a brain. And there was a strong elegance about her, too. The way she pulled her steel-gray hair up into a smart French twist, showing off all those refined bones. The cut of her custom-tailored suits. And those high Italian heels. If sex was power, Lee Wilde had it. Even at sixty.
At the agency everybody called her the Queen. And to her face at that. But Lee Wilde didn't give a shit; she was a vice president now and near retirement. An agency stockholder. Probably worth several million. With no husband and no kids, she was financially set for life. But then of course Lee had no life except the one at Wynn Bergman which was probably why she and Marty got along so well. You didn't make it up the ladder by having backyard barbecues with the spouse and kids. Sex life? Family life? Social life? The agency was your life.
Lee had become a close friend over the years, to both Marty and his girlfriend, Reiki, so when Marty realized Lee was watching him watch Carson, he started guiltily and returned to the business at hand. Looking over at the Arrow crew, he asked, "Are there any questions?"
"Just one, Marty," Frank Torello said from his place at the head of the conference table. He stood up and buttoned the coat of his off-the-rack suit over his middle-age spread and walked to the front of the room.
Marty tried to look unconcerned. Only one question? Marty smiled again, but his mind was racing. All those great graphics and clever headlines his creative team had put together would never snap, crackle, or pop across a TV screen if this guy Torello wasn't crazy as hell about them, but right now that was only the half of it. What about that small detail called NHP? What about an agency shortfall of six hundred million bucks? Marty's heart began to pound. Shit, he had to land this account.
Torello's narrow lips broke over his teeth, exposing a gleaming white grin as he extended his hand. "When can Wynn Bergman start?"
Marty tried not to look shocked: Clients almost never awarded an account on the spot; he'd assumed Arrow would make him sweat a few days, not a few seconds. His words betrayed his astonishment. "Are you serious, Frank?"
"I sure am."
Marty struggled to control the broad smile creeping over his face; hell, maybe the presidency wasn't a pipe dream after all. With Arrow in his hip pocket, it looked like he'd have that ace he needed. "We can start right now, Frank," he replied, giving Torello a firm handshake.
"Great!" Torello exclaimed. He motioned to the rest of the Wynn Bergman people. "Well, let's cut to the chase, shall we? When is the Super Bowl? Three, four weeks away?"
"It's three weeks away," Marty answered, puzzled. He looked at Lee and she shrugged. There'd been no mention of the Super Bowl.
"I know we've never discussed it," Torello conceded, "but we want to see our new rainforest botanical line in the Super Bowl."
"That's right," Carson said, coming to the front of the room. She patted Marty on the back like she'd known him half her life, adding, "Those great concepts of yours deserve a special showcase."
"I'm glad you liked them," Marty said cautiously, feeling his way. "But producing an ad like the one you just saw in three weeks is unrealistic. And besides, it's probably too late to get a spot in the Super Bowl at any price."
Lee nodded politely. "Marty's right. We placed our clients' buys for the Super Bowl months ago. And just to set the record straight, today's Tuesday, the sixth, which means the game's only nineteen days away, not three weeks." Marty tried not to smile; Lee Wilde was a precisionist; no detail, not even a small one, escaped her attention.
Looking annoyed, Frank Torello cleared his throat and nervously unbuttoned and buttoned his suit coat and, suddenly, Marty felt a mounting sense of panic. Was he going to blow it all now? And over a goddamned placement in the Super Bowl? But shit, it would be almost impossible to make a deadline like that.
"Don't misunderstand us, Frank," he explained evenly. "We don't have a problem with the strategy of placing a spot in the Super Bowl; it's the time frame we're uncomfortable with. We didn't plan on producing a major TV spot on such short notice."
"You're our agency, aren't you?" one of the scientific types still seated at the conference table called out. "We want in the Super Bowl. So put us there. That's what we hired you for."
"An ad in the Super Bowl will put us on the map," Torello insisted, his dark eyes flashing. "That's what we want... a big splash."
Both men, roughly equal in height, locked eyes momentarily, Torello's challenging and Marty's meeting that challenge. Then, Marty broke his gaze to glance over at his agency team. They looked pretty grim. If he agreed to produce an ad and get it in the Super Bowl, his team would revolt. If he didn't, well, they'd probably lose the fucking account. And he knew better than anybody how much the agency needed this account. Damned if he was going to let it slip through his grasp now.
"A big splash is fine, Frank.... We all want that," he said soothingly. "But we also want to make sure Isaac Arrow puts its best foot forward. And that takes time. We've spent over a thousand man-hours researching your market, your demographics, your product line and competition. We've done a lot of work. But there's still a lot more to do. There are the focus groups to copy-test the campaign. And then there's talent and music and a thousand other details that can make or break an ad. And let's not forget the filming at Planetlife in Belize and postproduction here in Chicago." Marty paused. "I'd hate to see us blow a great campaign now... just to get one spot in the Super Bowl. Wouldn't you?"
Torello shook his head and grinned. "Oh, now I get the pictureyou're worried. Well, don't be. We know you can pull this off."
Marty didn't think Torello got the picture at all. "I appreciate your vote of confidence, Frank. But if we produced an ad that didn't work, you'd look bad to your board of directors and we'd lose your account. That's what I'm trying to avoid. When your campaign hits the air, I want us both to look good."
Zak Restin, the team's creative director, nodded furiously, his thick black dreadlocks bouncing up and down. "One bad ad will ruin the entire campaign, Mr. Torello."
Torello adjusted his wide blue necktie and, glaring at Carson Page, snapped testily, "I thought you said Wynn Bergman could pull this off."
"I did, Frank." She smiled, her voice level and confident, with a steely resolve echoing in it. "And I'm still sure they can." She looked back at Marty and the six agency people standing alongside him and cooed, "We know what we're asking may seem unreasonable. Really, we hate to put you through this. But our board of directors wants the Super Bowl. They've got it in their heads that's the best place for our kickoff. They don't care how much the production costs. They don't care what the airtime costs. All they care about is seeing Isaac Arrow in the Super Bowl. They want the ad there... just like the other big boys... IBM and Bud and Coke." Carson paused, her features turning to stone. "So there it is. Either you produce the spot and get us in the Super Bowl or we'll have to take our three-hundred-million-dollar account elsewhere."
The conference room went quiet except for the sound of one of the Arrow scientists clicking his plastic ballpoint. Lee shot a look at Marty and Zak. The look said she too had been caught off guard and was pissed as hell. But it also said they had no choice, they had to give it a shot.
Lee might not know about the possibility of losing the NHP account yet, but she knew enough to know things were getting lean everywhere, even at a major agency like Bergman. She'd given the company her life and she wanted to retire someday with her head up, not pushed out because some Generation X turk from another ad agency would promise to get a spot in the fucking Super Bowl. Go for it, her blue eyes commanded. Go for it.
Of course Marty would. He smiled at Frank Torello and Carson Page and said, "You've got it. Super Bowl here we come."
"That's what we like to hear," Torello boomed, smiling like he'd just conquered K2.
Carson leaned over and whispered in Marty's ear, "You made the right decision."
He nodded, trying not to sigh. So that was that. There went that crazy idea he'd had about taking a few days off. But hell, he'd lost count of his canceled vacations. The most important thing right now was figuring out how they'd pull off this Super Bowl thing. Just how they'd do it, he didn't know at the moment, but dammit, this account was too big. And way too important.
He and Lee and Zak would go back to Bergman's headquarters, open a bottle of champagne, and curse up a blue streak. Then they'd all put their heads together and come up with something. They'd done it before. That's what those eighty-hour workweeks were all about.
"So now that that's settled," Torello announced smugly, "let's plan on meeting here tomorrow to review your production timetable."
"How's two o'clock?" Marty asked, flipping through his Filofax pocket diary.
Carson nodded. "Two's fine," Torello agreed.
With that, there was the rustle of papers and the sound of chairs on chrome rollers being pushed back in place, and the nerds at the conference table shuffled up to the front of the room. They had all the personality of wet Kleenex, the whole lot of them, with those limp handshakes and stammered Thank yous. Naturally, they dribbled out one by one. Not with a bang but with a snivel.
"Given our deadline, Frank," Carson suggested, "what do you say Marty lets his people get back to work while I give him a tour of our herbal research facility?"
"Good idea." Torello smiled at Marty. "You'll be impressed."
Excerpted from 30 Seconds , by Sam Giancana and Bettina Giancana . Copyright (c) by Sam Giancana and Bettina Giancana . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top