"Bienvenue à tous. Welcome everybody. Can you hear me in London? Allôôôô?"
This damn video conference is really acting up again, Jesus… Even though our technician, Régis, assured me firmly that it would work! Rule number 5: Never trust your subordinates. Ever. They can’t imagine the pressure we marketing executives have to deal with everyday. We really can’t afford for it to crash today. The stakes are too high: it’s my product’s brand development day, my baby, Prop dishwasher tablets. It is simply THE iconic product from our dishwashing range: it’s had continuous growth since its rebranding five years ago, comfortable profit margins fiercely contested by our competitors, innovations released every six months. How could poor Régis even understand that?
As you can guess, the title of Prop Brand Manager is a responsibility at all times. But it gives me a lot of pride as well, after a few years spent stagnating in the Bechamel Sauce section. Prop! Honestly, I wasn’t trying to reach that high. I’d thought of going along the usual track, the winning track: sauces - margarines - tea - ice creams - dishwasher detergent. But I didn’t. Thanks to an unexpected sick leave, the spot became vacant. I immediately applied and put forward the accomplishments I had made in the Bechamel Sauce field: I was particularly proud of the rebound in sales after years at a standstill, thanks to the introduction of a new "light" recipe for female customers worried about their weight (obstacle number one in the sales of alimentary sauces according to Ipses and Sofros institutes). That 22% increase in sales sent me directly into the galaxy of marketing heavyweights. I could chat to my General Manager in the elevator, look arrogantly, into the eyes of those that counted in the canteen: the world was going to hear about Marika Guibert!
"Marika? Marika? We can't see you, the screen is black on our side..."
"Yes, one moment John. Julien!!!! You go to the computer floor and you bring Régis back, got it?"
Julien is my trainee. Well, I share him with the other brand managers of Niqel (laundry) and Klin (household cleaner). Not a rocket, this Juju, but he does his job: filling in Excel Dashboards, preparing powerpoints, liaising with the different agencies (Com, Pub, Prod). It saves me the dirty work: in short, I keep my hands clean for Prop. However, probably driven by a rather understandable inferiority complex, he has developed an annoying tendency to act like a little boss... which irritates s Mélusine (Niqel) and Josepha (Klin) quite a bit. Who does this fresh-out-of-business-school prepubescent think he is? Deep down, I can see through his little game: he’s trying to copy me. I can feel it in that look of admiration, fear and false self-confidence, begging for a crumb of recognition to satisfy his shriveled ego. He would like so much to convince himself that he is not doing this for nothing. That he matters, too. Pathetic.
I have to admit: I like provoking that feeling even though, obviously, I don’t show it... Julien needs to go through the same school as everyone else: the school of competition, of low blows and of mercilessness. When you think about it, I’m doing him a favour. If he doesn’t toughen up in this environment, he might as well say goodbye to whatever career he was expecting in marketing. Yes, I’m even helping him out, that poor Julien who showed up here from small-town Dijon. If he makes it in this field, it’ll be thanks to me. Rule number 4: Cultivate subterfuges, you can always use an ally (even if he’s an intern).
"Julien, you on it yet?"
"Back to what I was saying: Welcome everyone to the Prop Development Day. May I remind you of the goals for today? You can see on the slide: SWOT, 5-year-marketing-plan, retail & pricing, advertising & branding, who does what and when. Questions?"
The ten or so people sitting around the table, all of them consultants from different agencies, nod solemnly, with a look of serious concern about what is going to be said, exchanged, decided inside this transparent glass-lined bubble, up on the third floor of the Gold Tower in La Défense.
Margot, Chief Happiness Officer, knocks at the door. Nobody asked for this.
"Hey Margot! You're just in time, come in!"
"Hello everyone, I'm interrupting for a couple of minutes to talk about the rules (her fingers draw quotes in the air as she articulates), 'work to-ge-ther' at Gold. At the end of the hallway you will find a water fountain — both still and sparkling — with free access. On the sixth floor, the cafeteria provides coffee, tea, hot and cold drinks, all our own Gold brands, of course. Please enjoy, they’re half price compared to outside! And for lunch... Marika, what do you have planned - canteen or meal trays?"
"I ordered sandwiches. We're having a super busy day."
"Perfect. Well, now all I can do is wish you a pleasant and productive day at Gold!"
"Thank you Margot. What would we do without you?"
"So, let’s begin with communication. M&B this is for you. I’m handing the cable over to you." With an expert move, I disconnect my laptop while the two consultants dash about in all directions, suddenly panicked about wasting time on such a decisive day. But in only a few seconds, the room’s screen lights up in the colours of the communication agency, khaki green and bright yellow (apparently those colours are trendy). The two consultants can barely hide their relief. They sent a senior and a junior, like they often do: the junior gets the practice and the senior takes the glory. As usual. So the junior, some Pierrick? Pierre-Yves? Yvon? starts the presentation off: "As you can see on that slide, the latest Singing Dishes communication platform is still performing well with consumers."
TING! Aperitif tonight?
Pierryon freezes, waiting for a signal. Keep going with his presentation, or not? I encourage him to continue with a wave of my hand, without looking up from the text message. It’s from Virginie, category manager for Fresh and Sopy laundry products.
TING! Yup. I have to put up with the agencies this afternoon. Awful
Tell me about it, I’m stuck with them all day
TING! stay strong!
"… And so, Prop displays a score of 9 in purchasing power, which is significantly superior to the norm," continues Pierryon timidly, watching for my approval.
"Hmmm. And compared to last year?"
Pierryon holds out a trembling index finger towards the screen.
"It has increased by 20% since N-1"
I sit back in my chair, still with my focused look, ego in a trance: 9 from purchasing power, +20% compared to N+1: it’s good, very good even. There’s an icon, a little green light next to it, that says it all! "Seems logical to go on with the Singing Dishes ads then… M&B, could you explore the topic further? About other possible variations: Singing Dishes are okay, but why not Dancing Dishes, Waltzing Dishes, Rapping Dishes, Rocking Dishes… in and/or out of the dishwasher… It opens up lots of possibilities!" I say, very seriously.
"Hello Marika? Hello?" Yes! The Brits come in at the right moment.
"Hello John! Hello Barbara!" Finally, it seems that the tech problems have resolved themselves. Régis did not deign to move his backside out of his den. What’s the point of an IT department that’s perpetually behind and always useless? Confirmation of rule number 5. "You’re joining us at the perfect time! M&B is showing us the excellent performance of the Singing Dishes platform."
"Wow, great. Incredible results. Marika, well done to you!"
I can’t help but stretch my lips into a semblance of a smile, meant to express my complete modesty. "Thanks, but it really is a collective success!" I specify in my most humble voice.
I’ve been preparing for this meeting for six months. Focusing all my energy on Prop, day and, sometimes, night too. My dream is for Prop sales to explode! For its name to be chanted when you enter supermarkets, for our product, and all of its variants, to occupy eight full categories: super power, anti-grease, lemon scented, peppermint, island fresh… One day, the General Manager, unable to restrain himself, will come to me in public and congratulate me in person, in the open plan office.
"Marika, I have to admit that I’m blown away by the energy, the determination, the sense of strategy that you have brilliantly put into the service of Prop."
"Thank you Jean-Pierre, but it really is a collective success…"
Mélusine and Josepha would glance at me, green with envy and fuming with rage, but showing the calm smile of the colleague who approves a rightful credit.
"No, this success is entirely your doing, Marika. You've proved your worth.I’m offering you a position in keeping with your ability."
"What? So soon? I don’t know if I could ever leave Prop, especially as I live Prop, I wake up Prop, I eat Prop…"
"Marika, what do you think about becoming my right-hand woman?"
"Hum... hum... HUM... Marika?"
"Uh? Yes sorry, what? Oh, yes, thank you M&B, great. Let’s move on, uh… Ipses! Over to you!" Other consultants take turns. Are they the same? More slides, just as positive. More compliments… I’m struggling to come down to earth. When noon arrives, I call for a break: I can’t contain my urge to gloat any longer!
Food arrives on a trolley: I let every consultant choose their mass-produced sandwich while I sneak out, pretending I have a very important call to make. Rule number 3: Always look very busy. I go by my desk to drop my stuff off before I catch up with Virginie on the Catman’s floor.
Rushing to the elevators, I stumble upon Mélusine, her eyes red and her Gold mascara all smeared.
"You okay, Mélu?"
"No I’m in big trouble…"
"I just got the latest sales numbers this morning: Niquel+ is plummeting, it’s performing badly… Even though I did my best on the promotions! Do you realize, it’s going to be taken off the shelves? It was my baby, Marika, my baby!! I’m done for…"
"Don’t worry. You’re really not. It is just a rough patch…"
"Well, I don’t know. Jean-Pierre expects me in his office this afternoon… I have a bad feeling."
I couldn’t hold back a slightly hopeful tone on that one. Mélusine stares at me for a moment, defeated.
My mind is spinning at high speed: if Mélu is kicked out, they’ll be in need of someone, someone tough, of course, to bounce Niqel+ back before it drowns. Apart from Josepha, who’s already struggling with Klin (she’s under fire from feminists because her ads are considered too sexist, even though, believe me, it’s still the good old housewife under 50 who’s in charge of all the cleaning and the shopping in around 80% of homes in France). Who else but… me? No, it would be too good to be true. Prop AND Niqel? Never seen before… It would work worthy of a superwoman. I shift my eyes from Mélusine’s baffled face for a moment: the elevator glass doors reflect a defiant look, the look of a winner. Yes, it’s almost done…
"Mélu, I would have loved to have lunch with you, but I am stuck with the agencies right now. Don’t worry though, I’m sure it’s going to be okay. Get yourself some lunch at Cojean! It ‘ll clear your head, and everything will be fine after that, you’ll see." I flash my "compassionate colleague" smile, pat her back and leave my now ex-competitor there. Second floor? Fifth floor? Virginie or Jean-Pierre? My heart races wildly, jumping out of my chest as I stand in the elevator. Should I wait for JP to call for me, the obedient and docile hard worker, or should I make the first move and be the one who anticipates, like a visionary? Rule number 2: Make your own luck. My finger presses number 5. When I get to the ‘floor of power’, I trample like a conqueror across the carpet , a carpet as thick as my future success. Approaching the General Manager’s office, I can hear snippets of conversation: seems like he’s on the phone… I’m pressed against the wall next to the office, trying to catch the words without getting caught.
"… excellent work… one of our best employees… A well deserved promotion…"
Could it be that Jean-Pierre is already on the phone with the board, authorizing the next step in my dazzling career?
"… Prop… Niquel+… Bechamel Sauce…"
No more doubt: they’re talking about me! I'm silently gloating, then I hear another voice. "Thank you Jean-Pierre." That voice… Even if I don’t yet know why, something inside me is starting to slowly crumble.
In a sudden leap for survival, leaving all good manners aside, I put one knee on the ground, then both, and approach as discreetly as possible, so I can take a quick glance inside the centre of power. White red-striped sneakers strike back at my scheming behavior and my dreams of glory, like a boomerang."Never forget Julien: there’s only one rule," the General Manager concludes, like he’s telling a secret, "always think ahead."
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