Everybody in the business of new business solicitation has a story to tell, often tragic, often comic, often both. But, my $100 bill is put aside for anyone who can tell one any wilder than the one I am about to narrate.
Let me first set the stage. In April of 1962, a lanky Hungarian creative man with a visual impact akin to a beardless Abe Lincoln went into a partnership with a not so lanky Irishman with an impact akin to a suave Jimmy Cagney. We called ourselves Baker & Byrne, Inc. We had started with a $5,000 a year billing account on a straight commission basis (for those having trouble with 15%, our gross income was thus $750 a year).
However, we were fortunately able to create creative impact and attention and in just a few months we were one of the “hot” agencies.
While the company was still but three people deep, Steve Baker, Jack Byrne and our girl Friday, Rita Kasky, we received a phone call from a Grace Jones. Since Steve didn’t know who a Grace Jones was, he told Rita we were in a meeting and whoever it was could try back again. The second time Grace Jones called, Rita got the same instruction. The third time she called, Rita didn’t even bother asking. The fourth time she called, she said Grace Jones of Hanes. But, her attempt to disturb our creative efforts was once more rebuffed, The fifth time she said, ” I need to talk to one of them sometime about business for them!”
I took the call.
Grace Jones was a member of the Board of Directors of Hanes Hosiery and its leading creative and marketing force. She knew we were “very busy”, but she had heard much about us and loved many things she had seen that were created by us and since Hanes was always looking to improve the advertising service it was getting, she would be delighted if we would give her an hour or two to come “see how we live”.
Fair enough”, I replied avoiding the sycophantic reply of how “terrible I felt” that we had caused her to have to keep calling. We set a date for the following Monday at 9AM at our offices.
Our offices were the triplex penthouse on Tudor City Place which also served as Steve’s home. As a start up company, I often slept in one of the bedrooms so that I could work 20 and sleep 4.
That is how I had spent that weekend.
So comes 8AM, Monday, my teeth brushed, beard shaved, suit (and even a tie) on, I ask Steve if he’d like to run a little review before Grace Jones of Hanes arrival. Steve appears equally spiffed for the occasion but replies, “I can’t do that. At 8:45, Berry and I are going to exchange some stocks and titles downstairs in the Lobby. We made an agreement this weekend.”
“Berry who ?”, you ask.
Berry Baker, of course.
The recently-separated, soon-to-be-divorced, highly-motivated towards unmerciful Ex-mayhem, Berry Baker. That Berry Baker..
So I said, with a small cough, “Golly, Steve, isn’t it a bit of bad timing for you two to meet so close to the most important potential acquisition of our agency’s history?” Steve often spoke slowly and cryptically but this time he responded simply with a confident and chipper, “Nope!”
Oh?” I said to the sound of the closing front door (which was no louder than my slamming heart).
The rest of this story will be told from the viewpoint of a third person whose omniscient eye and omnipresence, to say nothing of a detachment from clutching hearts and strangling throats, will help it keep a pace without crashing.
Jack is on the 22nd floor of 5 Tudor City Place, readying the highly dramatic living/reception room with its 30-foot ceiling, its span of 20-foot high French windows viewing the sky above the East River, its abundance of antiques and artifacts on the mantelpiece and shelves, its golden-framed masters on the walls, its spiraling 3-story staircase climbing to the Roof Garden above, where 2000 square feet of open space was shared with neighbor Charlton Heston … surely an atmosphere of distinction, reliability, good taste and, of course, creativity, and, indeed, it was titled The Creative Penthouse of Baker & Byrne Incorporated.
Rita is perking the Martinson’s coffee and warming the croissants from Le Petit Pan. The London Philharmonic is providing a bed for the sounds of morning with the waltzes of the Straus family. The sun beams sprayed by the cut glass panes of the French windows and filtered by the Chantilly lace curtains are darting about the room. An occasional ship’s bell establishes the location of the East River below/
It is 8:50 am.
In the lobby of the building 22 floors directly below Jack’s quiet preparations, a not un-nervous concierge paces behind the long reception desk, busying himself as discretely as possible so as to not to appear to hear the edgy conversation between Mr. Baker, from the 22nd floor, and his ex-wife, now from across the street, as the two appear about to exchange two documents, one in the hand of Mr. Baker, one in the hand of Mrs. Baker. Their 5-year old son is also trying ignore an impending all too familiar situation (and him with not even a bed to hide under).
From a corner of his eye, the concierge sees the two documents extended towards each other. The empty hand of each Baker reaches towards the other Baker’s document, So far so good.
He can’t help but hear their comforting reassurances to each other, “OK. OK. OK. Now you just hand me yours and I will hand you mine…OK.OK…. at the same time together…ok now!!!”
The documents exchange hands (“Whew”, thinks the concierge) (“Let’s go”, says the 5-year old son).
WAIT, EVERYBODY! Mrs. Baker has grabbed back her document from Mr. Baker’s hands. Now, she has both.
WOW! Now, Mr. Baker grabs both documents from Mrs. Baker and being a foot or so taller, defeats her attempts to grab them back by holding them high over her head.
YIPES! Mrs. Baker opts to climb Mr. Baker, using hands, nails and feet (not sure of the teeth).
The boy starts to cry. THIS LOUD.
OOOPs! Here comes a visitor.
Grace Jones, a stately grand dame, has just entered the lobby having reminded her chauffeur to return within the hour. She walks gracefully across the large hall being careful to step out of the path of the very tall man bearing a very short woman with her legs clutched around his waist and her hands around his throat. The woman is making a racket, the child is trying to drown her out, the tall man, faintly reminiscent of a troubled beardless Abraham Lincoln, is dragging both thrashing bodies across the lobby in an obvious and desperate attempt to reach the telephone at the concierge desk.
She to the concierge. “May I have the location of Baker & Byrne.”
He “Certainly, Madame, 22nd floor, just to the left of the elevator. I will announce you.” He picks up the house phone.
Abe Lincoln picks up the other phone, dials operator.
“I must have the police….”
Mrs. Jones walks to the elevators and as the doors open she hears behind her a faint voice pleading …
“I can’t dial myself, I’m all tied up here.”
The elevator provides a breath of silence for Mrs. Jones as she rises to the occasion of a meeting with Baker & Byrne.
Back to Jack and Rita.
Mrs. Jones is on her way up.”
Gee, I wish Steve would get back. I wonder where he went, he’s probably across the street at Berry’s”
The amenities. Mrs. Jones coat. Coffee and croissant?
Delighted. How charming. How creative. I myself have always longed for an office above it all, like this one. Such a pleasant lady. What a marvelous client she will make, thinks Jack. After all, he assures himself, who knocks out talented older women more than Jack Byrne? Thinking of his stints as Senior Vice President with Hockaday Associates and Johnstone, Inc. Love at first sight with Margaret Hockaday and Muriel Johnstone and even Hockaday’s genteel Sarah Lee. Grace Jones appeared to be of the same elegant, distinguished andcreative spirit as those three grand dames of advertising. Could probably wrap this up without Steve even showing, he feels.
A knock at the door. Ah, there’s Steve now.
WRONG! It’s Berry-the-ex with one screaming son. They enter “THIS IS MY HOUSE” and Berry (son on lap) sits on the plush couch BETWEEN Grace Jones and Jack. “I CAN SIT WHERE I DAMN PLEASE!”
Jack to Grace, “This is Steve’s ex-wife, Berry, and his son, Stephen”.
Son:”” SCREAM!” Ex-Baker “SHUT UP!” “SLAP!”
Pleased to meet you Mrs. Baker. And, you too, Stephen.”
If you do business with that crook of a man I married, you’re crazier than I was. I’ll nail him for everything he’s got, that bastard!” Jack, apologizing for interrupting this womanly chit chat, interjects “Perhaps, we should go in the back room, it’s somewhat easier to concentrate upon our work there.”
Berry re-interjects,” Don’t move on my sake. I just came to get my bags.”
To son, “Sit here!” “SCREAM” Slap!
Berry rises, climbs the winding staircase to the balcony, opens a closet, takes out a large four-suiter (not airline light) and throws it off the balcony. It misses Grace Jones endof the couch by 18 inches. The second lands closer. The third topples the end table.
The back room. AH! Silence again. “Other than that, Mrs. Jones, we have done some interesting work,” says Jack, as he starts turning pages of a leather-boundproof book.
Ooo. Ahhh. OOH. Nice. Charming. Oh, I do so like that. Yes, yes. My everything is really bright bright”.
The lady proves a lady is a lady after all and, after all, what’s one angered wife compared to two creative spirits. The din outside has, however, been rising as they speak. Outside the room, doors open and close, then open and close again and voices (many) rise and fall and command and console.
Perhaps I should take a peek,” says Jack, cracking the backroom door.
WHO THE FUCK ARE THEY?” says the 10-foot tall policeman on the other side of the door, hand racing to open his holster. Rita’s hasty explanation. “It’s Mr. Baker’s partner. The lady’s a client.”
Jack closes the door.
Well, Well, Well, Well, Mrs. Jones, so you like our work?”
Well, well.” (and, where the fuck is Steve ?).
Here is Steve, opening the door.
He looks like Lincoln lost the war, and fought it by himself. His face is scratched, his hair matted and caked from blood and sweat. His jacket? One lapel is torn off at the seam. The other hangs loose. All four pockets are flapping down and jiggle as he walks. His tie is in place but the front of half of his shirt is missing. Besides that, he appears embarrassed.
“Mrs. Jones. I am very happy to meet you. But, I would not blame you if you felt you didn’t want to do business with us.”
It was half an hour after Berry had arrived. Where had Steve been? He had called up to Rita and had her bring down a needle and thread to make him more presentable. Rumpelstilskin with all the King’s Men couldn’t have gotten that coat back together again.
“Think nothing of it Mr. Baker”, says the gracious lady, “but I really must leave now as I have another appointment. Perhaps not as entertaining as this one, but a necessary one just the same. Goodbye, Mr. Byrne.”
“Goodbye, Mrs. Jones”.
Goodbye, Mrs. Chips.
Goodbye, Hanes account.
Because of the incident? Don’t be silly. Because of Baker & Byrne’s naiveté and inability to read a lady. Embarrassed and certain of rejection by her sensibilities, the agency never called to follow up her visit.
Twelve months later, I bumped into Mrs. Jones at a McCalls’ magazine bash. Hanes had recently appointed a new advertising agency.
I was always so sorry you were not interested in our account. I would have so liked to work with you.”
Say what? But…but…”
The little tiff between Mr. and Mrs. Baker? My dear, I’ve been married to a Latin-American for 20 years. There’s nothing you can show me that shocks me.”
So the moral of the story is obvious. No matter how much you shit on the territory, there’s always a chance to grow roses.