I've just come back from running errands after lunch time, and they—Josh Levine and Raymond Lee Roker of Urb magazine—are waiting for my colleague Dvora Vener and me in the lobby. I am, in a rare instance, early.
Initially, we (well, let's be honest and say I) just can't seem to focus. Somebody hacked my instant messaging password, which kind of freaks me out. I imagine this person IM'ing my friends and whatnot, posing as me. I sit in the meeting for like five minutes and finally just can't take it. I excuse myself and go back to my office and change the password.
A few minutes later, I come back into the conference room. Then Dvora decides she has to get something, so she gets up and leaves. Josh and Raymond decide they do want water, after all. This goes on for 10 more minutes. I am thinking: How can we be acting so cavalier and still win this business?
I have to say something that will flush the weird energy from the room, so I tell them I need their help regarding a Perrier (water) club program we're trying to set up, and how I would like Perrier to advertise in Urb next year. I am totally serious. We can't seem to find the right partner for the club program, and Urb offers just the kind of street cred I believe Perrier needs. I want Urb media kits on the client and media buyer's desks right away. This also gives me an opportunity to go back to my office and grab the addresses and check to see if anyone is still messing with my IM.
Dvora and I present an unlikely combination to get what Urb (a magazine of urban culture) is about. Statuesque and marble-white, Dvora looks like Helen of Troy but in fact handled the Source and the Source Hip-Hop Awards (marred by gunfire on its last outing under our aegis), T-Boz, Ziggy Marley, and Ice Cube; she is our urban secret weapon.
There's a point past which you have nothing to lose, and in conversation, anyway, that's where I do best, and that's where this pitch is going. It's kind of like improvisation for an actor—you make things up as you go along, but fit them into a specified context. You react to the other folks and riff off them. But, each time I look at Dvora, she favors me with that smile people use when they are dealing with very dangerous or very crazy people, so I can't tell if she's encouraging me or not.
We talk about last spring's Winter Music Conference in Miami. We mention we looked after Stuff magazine, and they ask if we promoted the Stuff Hotel, which we did. I tell them about the Little Louie Vega set there, where it felt like the penthouse floor was going to cave in. Small, positive coincidences start falling into place, one after another. We remember a pretty good set by DJ Collete. The Perrier tent and Urb's were next to each other at the Coachella Music Festival.
Aside from the fact that we simply get along—which not surprisingly is key to winning business—I am trying out genuinely new things to say about our company and what we can do for clients. For example, I am trying to broker and foster relationships between media outlets and advertisers for event marketing. So many people call and ask us for connections every day I figure we might as well formalize it and try to get paid for it.
I talk about the growing bias in the media with Raymond and Josh, explaining how TV and radio are switching to third-party experts as on-air commentators because audiences have learned to distrust the anchors or hosts, who now do double duty as shills for their parent company or advertisers. Two of my favorite examples are the KABC "weather shots"—which used to feature cornball things like fairs, benefits, and parks—but now usually depict KABC parent Disney's California Adventure. But, back atcha: Search MapQuest for attractions in Anaheim, Calif., and Disneyland won't come up, because Six Flags is a site sponsor. Anyway, the use of third-party experts presents a key opportunity for a guy like Urb's Raymond Roker, because we can pitch the media regular segments on music culture that he can host. I've seen how these kinds of recurring gigs can be invaluable in building a brand.
Things end up going so well that the thorny subject of money comes up. Unfortunately, a lot of fee estimation for retainer-based accounts is guesswork. We know that they paid their former agency $1,500 a month. This figure does not exactly have us leaping out of our chairs, and bluffing would be hopeless, since we know over-quoting would send them out the door. So we tell them what the Source paid us to handle their magazine alone. It might as well be a bluff too, since it's like three times what they're hoping to pay.
Regardless, there are some things we do for love and some we do for money, and this is certainly one of the former. "We overcharge bad people in order to make room on our roster for stuff like this," I tell them. I get the impression that when they leave they will become clients, but to give voice to that sentiment would jinx the deal.