It was easier to have dinner with a group of friends in New York City the night before New Year’s Eve than New Year’s Eve itself. My friends picked out a hot spot in the meatpacking district. I live on the Upper East Side, so with earphones playing a soundtrack for my evening’s commute, I headed out towards the subway station at 77th and “Lex.”
While walking north on Lex, deaf to the sounds of the world around me, I saw an elderly man with poisoned posture walking with a cane attempting to cross the street. His feet moved like they stuttered. This scene was utterly ridiculous -- he wasn’t going to even come close to making it across before the light turned green. I removed my earphones and was struck by the sounds of horns honking.
I walked out to him, and his left hand grabbed my right arm. I then held up my left hand as a five-finger stop sign to the cars whose lights impatiently bore down on us. As we crossed, I began to worry that my wallet would somehow be picked by this elderly man. When we arrived safely at the curb, I slid my left hand across my back pocket to feel my wallet as the elderly man made the climb up the curb. No words were exchanged as I left him and headed north one block to the entrance of the subway station. I stopped there to put my earphones back in and walked down below street level, feeling great about the good I had just done.
After a few minutes on the platform, the roaring sound of the No. 6 train pulling into the station drowned out the music playing in my ears. After I stepped in, I remained standing, my left hand holding onto the shiny silver pole whose bottom half connected to the row of seats to my left filled with other passengers.
When you’re in a NYC subway car, if you are so inclined, you can grab a good look at yourself in the windows when the train is traveling between stations. Wearing a new sweater and a wonderful feeling on my sleeves, I looked in the window and liked what I saw in this moment of self- reflection. As I wound down my glance, a need to sneeze abruptly hijacked my body. In those situations, I often lift up my shirt over my mouth and sneeze into myself essentially. But this time, dressed up for a big night out, I changed my routine and instead caught my sneeze between the flesh of my hands and the cuffs of my coat.
As I recovered, I glanced across at the row of passengers sitting on the opposite side of where I stood. A distinguished-looking middle-aged man wearing expensive-looking glasses was gazing directly at me, his face riddled with disgust. At that moment I realized my public health gaffe. My left hand covered with my sneeze was rewrapped around the shiny silver pole. I had failed to wipe my hands even on my pants as a symbol of interest in the health and well-being of others. I dropped my head in acceptance of his mental scolding. On my way down I caught a glimpse of myself in the window and was disappointed in what I saw.
In this public moment of shame, a smile came across my face. Had this man with expensive glasses seen me ten minutes ago on the street, he would be thinking of me very differently.
It was the night before a new year, and life had just handed me a lesson. Being a hero one minute gives you a false sense you are protected from becoming a goat a minute later. It is our choices that dictate either outcome.
Choices happen in real time. You have just chosen to read this sentence. Choices are also driven by self-interest. We are a selfish people. I knew helping that elderly man cross the street would make me feel great. There, selfish worked. I chose not to sneeze into my shirt and subsequently (and unconsciously) forgot to wipe my hands on my clothing in order to preserve the aura of my outfit. There selfish failed me.
We sell media to make money; our self-interests are on the table. Our account list directs our efforts, but it is our choices that determine what those efforts look like. Here I see two common and materially different paths taken. The most common is to call on a client with a sincere desire to win that business armed with experience and guile, and deliver a great sales pitch smothered with confidence.
The second path is the road less traveled. It includes everything mentioned above, in addition to clearly stating upfront an educated assumption about the problem(s) that advertiser is trying to solve with the proposed marketing communication. Also, and most importantly, in your “bag” is a unique idea mocked up and succinctly outlined that you believe will help that advertiser’s brand, product and service safely cross into the minds of the audience your site delivers -- and subsequently, help solve that client’s problem.
One approach feels like you are dragging your client across the street; the other feels like you are lending them a helping hand. One approach seems as if you are serving only your interests, while the other produces more apparent mutual benefits. One approach comes with moments of heroism that trick you into feeling the failures you experience are not your fault, while the other guarantees you feel great and look good all of the time.
Whichever path you take to cover your accounts this new year, remember the choice is always yours to make.