She appeared in his dreams like a nymph emerging from the mist of Ogygia – the mythical island of Odysseus. Without warning, as he lay on his back she loomed above him – her hair brushing his face, her hands pinning his shoulders. She straddled his hips with her legs as her breasts brushed his torso. Her generous chest heaved in with a deep intake of air, and her voice husky from sleep breathed out “Did you miss me?”
The taunting smile on her lips meant she already knew the answer. The heat between her legs had his full attention, and all he wanted to do was pull her onto his morning hardness. His hands reached for her hips to signal his urgent need for her. She arched he back and lifted her head toward the ceiling, showing the point of her chin and the chiseled nostrils that carried her quickening breath. As her eyes closed with impending ecstasy, her lips parted and said …
“This is your wake-up call. It’s 5:35 am and 65 degrees. Have a remarkable day with Romero Hotels.”
He rolled to his side. Disappointment spread across the empty side of the bed, and cold sheets mocked the heat of his throbbing erection. Morning hard-ons are the best, but this one would go to waste. The dream was slowly dissipating as he focused on the wallpaper, the drapes, and the carpet to try to remember what city he was in. But their patterns didn’t help him to fix his location: all the cities looked the same.
And the silence of his room felt the same as every other morning he woke alone.
+ + +
The first time I met the new Account Executive, he scared me. When Chelsea escorted me across the threshold of his office, he looked up but did not smile. On the desk before him was a list of numbers, and he was hunched over them with elbows on the desk. One hand on his forehead. When he shifted his attention from the columns to study me, I felt like a vexing digit on the page.
“Magnus, I’d like you to meet Susanna Coston since she’s visiting the main office today. She’s one of our research managers, embedded offsite. She’s primarily responsible for our fast food clients, so she gets all the fun toys and high-end lunches.” Chelsea laughed at her own joke, but he did not join her. He stayed seated, attached to his task on the desktop.
“Do you have any experience in medical topics? Any medical background? Something I can use to sell our skills in that area?” His questions came in rapid succession.
“Nice to meet you” would have been a good start, but I was willing to be congenial and answer questions. “Sorry, no. My educational background is child development, and within the agency I’ve grown up in Quick Service Restaurants. That’s kind of the polar opposite of Pharma. I believe I generate their patients.”
He still didn’t crack a smile. “What techniques are you using? Have you used video chats? Or bulletin boards?”
“Actually, I have yet to use video chat – there are still limits to the technology in 2004 – and I haven’t had the need for internet bulletin boards. Fast Food customers aren’t all about the internet and computers just yet.”
With my lack of competency in his area of inquiry, his interest in spending even limited time with me quickly faded. “I am planning to use technology to leverage sales with Pharma customers, so let me know when you have that experience.” He returned to his column of numbers, indicating our brief introduction was over, so Chelsea and I retreated to the hallway.
A few steps from his door, I turned to Chelsea. “Yikes, he’s rather intense.”
“Yeah. So far he seems to be a ball of stress, but maybe that will fade. None of us know much about Pharma and he is supposed to open that door so … we’ll see.” Which meant we will see how long he lasts like many Account Execs before him who tried to break new ground.
Later I would recall very little about his appearance – only his piercing gaze. I sensed how a rabbit must feel when it realizes a hawk is upon it. Yet, he did not find what he was looking for in me – and so today the rabbit escaped. It would be another ten months before I would see him again. Magnus Scott did not enter my thoughts during that time.
+ + +
My position as an embedded asset in the client’s headquarters was enviable. I worked from my Chicago apartment three days a week and spent two days in the client’s office – plus being available for meetings. About half the time, I wasn’t even in town due to travel to observe the research that informed our advertising concepts – or tore them apart.
Since my separation from James, I valued my privacy and solitude. The possibility of dismantling of my marriage was painful, and I was tired of dodging uncomfortable questions from family and friends. Being removed from the day-to-day interaction in the head office gave me both the space I needed to heal and a sense of control.
I still had my friends from college, from work, and some of my friends from my former married life - but not in the same way. Some of them contacted me because they felt sorry for the dissolution of a lengthy marriage and feared I was lonely, some because they were truly supportive and encouraging, some because they genuinely enjoyed my company – and a special circle who were a combination of all three. Being located in Chicago hastened my separation from my semi-husband who stayed in Cincinnati. Maybe the physical distance of the position in Chicago was the cause of our dissolution, but more likely it was the symptom of the emotional distance that already existed. Our discontent was easier to accept this way.
How had it come to this? There had been no arguments, no trysts with other people – just small, slow steps to being far apart. Almost 20 years, and here we were. I remember having expectations of romance when we were newly married. Even arguing about the lack of intimacy and finally giving up to his explanations that you couldn’t expect every day to be filled with candlelight and kisses. We worked well together and we worked even better when we divided the responsibilities. Our marriage was a well-oiled machine. Especially after the birth of our son, when life was so complicated, James was a wonderful partner and an invested father, so why should I complain? Yet never asking him to fill the void between us let our marriage diverge in two comfortable tracks, until the comfort was more about being apart than together.
And being in Chicago, it was easier to act like the separation didn’t exist, that there was no question of divorce in the uncertain future so that I could focus on the work I needed to do now. Hotel rooms helped me to imagine I was simply away from home for a few days. And I was actually happy with the feeling I was making decisions and could move through the world on my own, even if my point of reference had become Road Warriors. I had established a pattern that met my needs just as well as my non-emotional marriage.
+ + +
From my distant perch overseeing the data on kiddie meals and mega-burgers, I heard a rumor that Chelsea and Magnus were at odds over his business development strategy for Pharma. My work with her was transferred to another project coordinator - and shortly she was gone from the agency. Magnus seemed to be working closely with Deborah, another research manager who was located at headquarters and had a medical background.
When my phone rang on a rainy afternoon, I did not recognize the number immediately but soon realized it was coming from inside the agency. It was on the last ring when I caught it. “Hey Susanna, it’s Deborah Newsome. How’s it going in hamburger land?”
“I can’t complain. Well, I CAN but I won’t. Still racking up frequent flier miles to use when I retire. How about you?”
“Pretty good. My daughter got married last month and I’m still recovering.”
“Congratulations! I would love to hear more about that and see the pictures when they are available. Maybe we’ll end up in the same city on a research junket sometime soon.”
“That might be sooner than you think. You may have heard I am working with the new AE, Magnus Scott. It’s all new ad work for Pharma and it’s starting out well. Mainly print ads and detail aids to physicians. I know that’s not your area, but we have an opportunity that involves consumer ads to patients, and we could really use your help.”
“Aww thanks, Deborah. It’s been years since you and I collaborated, and I would enjoy the chance to step away from QSR for a bit. Get out of my bubble, you know. What’s this project involve?”
“Magnus is moving in on the treatment of the chronic trifecta – Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension and High Cholesterol. This project involves Direct to Consumer ads for a Diabetes treatment. Rico Costas’ team is developing the graphics and copy. As usual, we will have far too many options to test – along with competing egos – but you know how to manage that by now, right?”
I laughed to myself at Deborah’s sarcasm. Managing research was sidestepping the Clash of the Titans as much as it was collecting data. Between Creative Directors and Copy Writers and Account Execs and, oh yes, the Client who pays for it all, there was a multi-level chess game in play at all times. The “fun” responsibility of research was to supply the fodder for concept development, while the “tedious” responsibility was to provide feedback on the developed concepts – which meant trampling on the products of the creative team. Unfortunately, there were many ways to bias research, and the unspoken part of our responsibility was to minimize that effect because we knew it could never be completely controlled.
Deborah described meeting in Philadelphia for two days of interviews, followed by two days in Denver while she went on to Ft. Lauderdale. I had not traveled to Phillie or Denver recently, and the chance to learn about Direct to Consumer advertising was a lure. But the question of Magnus and his work style caused me to pause. “Before I’m all in, what can you tell me about working with Magnus Scott?”
There was hesitation searching for the right words. “Well … he’s new at this … so it’s different. But clients seem to like him and as they say in the Hokey Pokey: that’s what it’s all about.”
“Then I guess we’ll be learning together. Count me in!”
+ + +
I immersed myself in learning about Type 2 Diabetes. The risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, drug classes, and competitors in pharmacologic treatment. I read about the patient types, the pros and cons of each treatment – and then I looked at current print ads and televised advertising. And finally I read the previous research and dove into the advertising concepts developed by our team. As always, the translation of a sales message into a narrative and visuals captured my imagination. I tried to imagine how a patient would react. What are their questions and concerns? What are the underlying motivations and obstacles to adhering to their treatment? What are the fears and the definitions of success? The questions are a constant churn in my thoughts, and I like it that way.
The churn keeps me from thinking of other things.