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snub me? snub you!
your biggest business blunder might begin with a form letter
by jonas foster
2.11.05
general


Five years ago, I did something really stupid that seemed like a brilliant move at the time. I quit my job. And not just quit, but hauled off and quit like I was throwing a left hook at some chubby fratboy who stepped on my toes one too many times on the dance floor.

Man, I quit with vigor.

After a valiant attempt in the entertainment industry hawking screenplays (mine, if you were wondering) and getting more dirty than rich, I bailed and headed back home. At the time, I figured, "Another job? No problem." I'm not really in any hurry to begin with and, on top of that, I never had much trouble finding a gig. I didn't even update my resume.

It's all about the networking. And that is what I do.

I've got certain executives at certain companies that occupy certain floors of certain very tall buildings here in Manhattan on speed dial. I do all those things that the preppy '80s movies told you to do. I play golf. I eat power lunches. I arrange tickets to events you can't get tickets to and I offer those tickets strategically.

You hate me by now, right?

Of course. My point is that I've got my foot in several doors, and when I'm let in, I do whatever it takes to make the company, individual, or charitable organization (Yes - I'm not Gordon Gecko) several percentage points above and beyond the number of dollars we agreed I would bring in. It's that simple.

You just have to have your feet in a lot of doors. And to do that, I do whatever it takes to make the executive, director, or cleaning person feel like they're the most important person in my world for as long as we're sitting or standing across from one another.

You would be amazed at how well this works.

Anyway, I was about to tell you when I blew a gasket and why I hate a certain woman I'm going to call Bobbie Fleckman. That's not her name, but it rhymes with her name. AND it's a Spinal Tap reference, so you can't really expect me to pass that up.

I first met Bobbie during my first corporate go-round, before the screenplay sojourn, at some generic executive meet and greet. She immediately inundated me with the details of her meteoric rise through the annals of sports-related marketing website history. I love sports and I'm somewhat partial to websites, so I listened to her stump speech for as long as I could before mentally nodding off. A few weeks later, I bumped into her again at a charity fundraiser. I remembered her name, she did not remember mine - plus - she looked haggard, disheveled, in a word, worried.

Seems the design house she had contracted for her fall campaign had tossed her over the proverbial cliff. Their Creative Director had spent the weekend all dosed out on X and was now in, get this, rehab! She had no art, no slogan, no gorgeous product shots to send to production.

I knew a guy who could do it cheap. He used to be at BBDO and left when it got too "over-the-top." He was now independent and hungry. I gave her a name and number, and then watched her glorious, glamorous campaign unfold from afar later that year.

Fast forward to three years ago. Imagine my surprise to come back from LA, defeated and grimy, and find Bobbie Fleckman's name attached to a job posting for the same prominent sports-related marketing website. Bobbie was now an SVP and was looking for an idea-person to take the company to the next level. This was right up my alley and the posting was fresh. Serendipity! I immediately fired off an email rife with warm greetings and remember-whens and a have you seen (former BBDOer) lately?

When I didn't hear anything back after three days, I figured someone was screening her applicants, so I dug out her business card and called her. Her personal assistant said she would pass on the message. I called back three days later. I dropped off a hand-written note to the same personal assistant three days after that.

The next day, I got a form email re'd from my most recent email to Bobbie, directly from her email account, that started "Dear Applicant."

I hit the fucking ceiling.

I hit "reply" and "delete" probably twenty times over before going out and getting drunk (I had already planned on getting drunk that night, so it's not as dramatic a moment as it seems). And when the hangover went away, I decided, on the spot, to go from job-seeker to company-creator, because it's a much better feeling to be a rejected sales-wanting-monkey than a rejected job-wanting-monkey.

And I haven't looked back.

But the lack of decency that is the unforgivable hint that accompanies a total lack of personal communication still stings. There's a reason I buy Dell products over HP, and that reason has to do with a string of broken promises made to me by HP executives. Nokia sent me a form letter once, so now I buy only Motorola. And on and on.

It is somehow incorrectly assumed that not having to return phone calls or emails is a sign of power. Hell, if Bobbie had taken the time to answer every piddly voicemail left on her personal line, she would never have found the time to inflate her own personal story at cocktail parties, which, I am sure she is convinced, is the reason her career has gone thus far.

Eavesdroppers and namedroppers. Yeah, that's what gets you ahead.

But the beauty punch, the drop-dead absolutely phenomenal end to this story has to do with me looking for a little marketing help for the firm that my anger at Bobbie Fleckman is partially responsible for. Yes, we've reached critical mass and we need to go niche. There's only so much networking I can do, and what I do isn't the kind of thing you go out and put up billboards about. So I put out a call for resumes.

And wouldn't you know. There, smack in the middle, is one Bobbie Fleckman, former SVP of a sports-related marketing website, now independent and hungry, looking for anything in marketing that "presents a unique challenge."

And guess who is qualified for the position I have.

And guess who isn't getting it.

And it's not what you think. If I let personal feelings enter into my business life then I'd be just as bad as Bobbie. However, if I thought for one second that one of the people who works for me would ever "Bobbie Fleckman" a potential customer, client, employee, or partner, well, that person and I would have a little chat, maybe a retreat with some classes.

I've spent way too long looking out for those around me to undo that now.


ABOUT JONAS FOSTER

Having spent most of the eighties in and out of various colleges, Jonas Foster ducked the 9 to 5, wrote a book, and then made a mint selling the right information to the right people. He once dated a supermodel, although he refuses to offer which one, and now habitually combs Manhattan in search of the next.

more about jonas foster

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COMMENTS

russ carr
2.11.05 @ 12:10a

DUDE! I need a new job!

russ carr
2.11.05 @ 12:07p

In fair comparison, I still remember my first real journalism job out of college, and the torturous editor I worked under. She pushed me to the edge with one particular assignment based around what seemed to be a personal vendetta, using me as her instrument of torture. It was enough to drive me to quit, in search of a job where I wasn't going to be used to do someone else's dirty work.

I ended up at a little print shop as their graphic artist, a humble job that paid well and steered me into the career that I have today as production manager for a national sports magazine. I worked with smart, fun, upfront people and took pride in my work.

But the best day of my job at that little print shop was the day I glanced up through the window of my office to see my former editor coming in to get her resume copied. She'd been capped.

Honorable behavior in the workforce has yet to backfire on me. I have certainly seen dishonorable people prosper...but I know the day will come when karma bites 'em on the ass.

ellen marsh
2.11.05 @ 2:41p

After 40+ years in the work world, some of it corporate and some of it academic, I have repeatedly seen dishonorable, dishonest people ultimately get their comeuppance, sometimes after years of subordinate and co-worker abuse. It is inevitable that some of the people treated badly will rise to power and take them out.

Unfortunately, despicable people can often last for a long time in the work place, causing a lot of misery during their tenture. Nonetheless, if an organization shelters too many of these people on their management team, odds are the company will fail, be sold off, or will downsize.

[edited]

russ carr
2.11.05 @ 3:16p

My company has already been sold off twice and has downsized repeatedly. As far as I'm concerned, the writing's on the wall, but we have yet to have an owner, CEO or president capable of reading it.

tracey kelley
2.11.05 @ 3:29p

MAN!

Talk about SERENDIPITY! My friend, the fact that she has sent your company HER resume is one of those universally cosmic moments wherein you sit with your feet up on the balcony in the fading light, rocking a lightly frosted glass between two fingers and accept that, indeed, everything happens for a reason.

What a great trajectory.

However, now I can't stand you, for I have Fran Drescher's laugh in my head.

jonas foster
2.11.05 @ 3:38p

Yeah, but when you think about it, the only reason I got her resume is because she still hasn't bothered to remember who I am.

Which is my point, not so much the come-uppance, but the fact that people mistake power as a get-out-of-civility-free card.

I wasn't at all expecting a job, but at the very least: "Jonas! Good to hear from you. I'm sorry, I can't use you. Have a nice day."

Had that happened, I wouldn't still be searching for my marketing guru.

Russ, I'd love to help you out, but I need someone in Manhattan with a sizable Rolodex.

Do people still use Rolodexes? You get my drift.

russ carr
2.11.05 @ 3:48p

someone in Manhattan with a sizable Rolodex

Regis Philbin?

The other thing I marvel at is how people like Bobbie can get as far as they can given that they wear their ignorance like a scarlet I on their chest every single day. Sadly, Darwinism moves slowly in the management world.

lisa r
2.12.05 @ 8:21a

Sadly, Darwinism moves slowly in the management world.

That's because some traits are controlled by so many genes that it takes forever to see improvement in a breeding program. Either that, or the particular gene in question has nearly zero variation within the population, in which case you need to pray for a mutation to get anywhere.



[edited]

dan gonzalez
2.14.05 @ 10:38a

Sadly, Darwinism moves slowly in the management world.

Not to wax behavioralist, but it's more than genes, don't you think? Incompetant people surround themselves with other incompetant people because they've got no way of discerning who's competant. They protect their own because competent people can't stand them. Back-stabbing and brown-nosing is their only means of career management.

Also, it's not like Darwinism works right in the lower ranks either. I've seen at least at least 4 occasions where incompetent people have used sexual harassment or racial discrimination to get promotions, only to continue sucking at their jobs but with a higher pay rate.

lisa r
2.14.05 @ 7:18p

Oh, I know that...I just couldn't resist making a play off the reference to Darwinism. It's an occupational hazard.

I have to tell you, I've worked several places in several different industries, and the owners and management where I work now are the best people I've ever worked for. They make sure everyone feels appreciated, and they treat us very well.



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