The doors are shut. There’s a nervous excitement in the corridors. People are shuffling faster than usual, with a “Haven’t you heard?” look upon their faces as they pass you by. The water cooler zone is slowly filling up with spotty-faced interns who think the sense of doom is somehow their doing. The planners are all huddled together in a room. It seems quieter than everyday.
In the meanwhile, someone had the bright idea of turning the down the volume of speakers attached to the various computers and iPods around the office. A vaguely familiar music evaporates into the air, interrupted only by the occasional ring of a mobile phone. This gives it a sort of Tarantino-esque air about the place. Most cabins are shut tight with only the still silhouettes of the occupants giving you any indication that they are not empty. The back stairway is full of inky, sullen and nervous creative people sucking away at cigarettes, waiting. The place is jumpy. There’s a storm brewing. Some are staring out of the window. This could be big. Everyone seems to be nodding to the same in agreement. We have to get these guys (insert long, dramatic drag on cigarette)… we must. Right??
The agency has just been invited to a pitch.
It’s for a big client. It doesn’t matter who. But it’s as big as it gets. It’s an invitation. First came the email. And then the cursory call from a flunkie.
“Hi. Thanks so much for the opportunity. We are very excited.”
“Yeah. Did you find the attached brief?”
“Yes. It’s quite comprehensive. And, er…beautifully written. Very clear. You don’t get to see briefs like these anymore. Did...umm…you write it?”
“Yea. Thanks. So do let me know when you will be ready. I have to tell my seniors.”
You get the drill. There’s a lot to be done. The bosses whisper names that could better chances. The planners are still huddled. The servicing gets into action identifying people, processes and perhaps even caterers. The now relieved interns are sent on the dirty errands. Questionnaires are being prepared for research. Studios being booked for brand videos. The creative team is brainwashed into believing that this win will change the face of the agency; and their careers, of course. Everyone is palpably excited.
Over the next few hours, the pantry boys deliver litres of grimy coffee to shapeless desks. The research keeps piling on. Some of it is dated. Some twisted. Some suspect. The planners mull over it. Some even write copy but are quickly asked not to share it with the creative team lest it hurts their morale. They find an insight. It’s been found before. Many times in fact. But they change the articulation and pepper it with some manufactured words. They write it in pretty big letters on the board. The presentation is being built. There’s almost applause. This is big. We hear again.
The creative teams wait. In a cold room. It’s actually the conference room. But it sure feels cold. The planners walk in and handover the masterpiece. They all sit. Both sides get dismissive, passive, apprehensive, pensive and finally aggressive. It plays out like an ancient mating ritual. But perhaps, I am employing too polite an allegory. You do get the picture. I know.
The parts are simpler from here. The young writers come up with 43 ideas scribbled under ten minutes. They are whacky, funny and utterly useless. The creative director sighs and sends them back. The art directors start ploughing for fonts and references from everywhere. The group heads start going through their piles of assorted rejects and spec work to see if anything fits. The senior creative directors sit and go through well-thumbed copies of Archive. The planners have a drink. And continue writing their epic. And occasionally call to check if the kids in creative are doing okay.
Three days later we return. It’s 9 am. The place resembles the aftermath of a gruesome domestic squabble. Red eyes stare at you from everywhere. There’s a sense of urgency. The layouts are being mounted. There’s a furious exchange of pen drives. The suits are in. If they are uncomfortable in the surroundings, they don’t show it. The creative teams however are allowing themselves the luxury of little smiles. Mostly relieved because it is over. Empty cups litter the desks. The back stairway narrowly escaped catching fire. There is a curious smell of deodorants and nervousness that hangs low and heavy. The blackberries come out. The portfolio bags are loaded. The batteries are charged.
One floor down, two creative directors look at each other. They might or might not be smoking. It may or may not be legal. They are wearing their best clothes possible. Right down to their converse chappals and crumpled tees. The ritualistic earphones are in place. The last minute oration sounds good in the head. They nod. They want to hug, but refrain. A phone rings.
“Where are you? We should really leave now.”
The cars are full. The big one with the top bosses leaves. The other car is still being loaded with the adulterated specimens. A few laptops are still open. Doors bang shut. It’s a forty-minute ride.
Futile attempts at levity on the last mile are ignored but appreciated silently. The client’s office is cold and smells of something. The chairs look uncomfortable. The women, a little too attractive. The view is grand. You really wouldn’t want to work there. The congregation waits. Like a bunch of anxious schoolboys, outside the principal’s room.
Finally, a door opens somewhere. Someone leads the pilgrims into a largish room. Three gentlemen with blurry faces and a pretty lady are already seated inside. It’s quieter than on the moon. Introductions happen. A few lame attempts at humour while fumbling with the projectors. Finally, it works. A liveried office boy walks in to take the orders. Chairs are pulled back. Some seem to be squeaking. The creative directors look at each other and take a deep breath. They reach for their portfolio bags and pull out the boards. The planner adjusts his necktie and makes eye-contact with his client counterpart. The projector throws up slide 1 of 161.
It’s time to dance.
Trilokjit Sengupta is the creative director and one of the founder members of METAL Communications. He has spent almost ten years in advertising and thinks it is enough.