The Worst Meeting Ever: Part 1

(With a Really Good Contest and Prize)

By Published on .

Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
I've been having a run of really good, productive meetings on this latest trip. It's nice to walk out of a meeting feeling inspired and excited about your prospects. Still, for some reason, as I was driving back to the hotel in Boston today, I recalled a couple of meetings that were less than perfect. OK, that's understating it. These were unmitigated disasters that, to this day, rank as two of the most bizarre moments in my professional career. The first was far and away my fault. The second was all on the client.

Bad Meeting No. 1: Wieden & Kennedy/Spring 1992
There is nothing worse than shaking an interviewer's hand at the end as he says "good luck."

This is exactly what John Russell said to me as I meekly backed out of his office in the old Dekum Building in Portland with my tail squarely between my legs. Back then, John was an account manager for the agency (he's currently president of Leopold Ketel in Portland) and I had managed to eek out an interview. It could have very well been my persistence in sending letter after letter pretty much begging for the chance to just talk to anyone. It could have been my resume that included an internship at DDB Needham in Denver.

The excitement started five days prior to the meeting. I lugged myself home on the bus from yet another "exciting" day as an operations assistant (read: glorified teller) at the Bank of Tokyo. The light on the answering machine was flashing. I figured that it was either a creditor or one of the many women who called for our roommate Steve. To my shock and dismay, it was HR from Wieden.

The interview was two days away and I began to panic a little and didn't sleep particularly well. The day of the interview, I realized that I had nothing "ad agency-ish" to wear. The dress code at the Bank of Tokyo was somewhere between military school and Brooks Brothers. So, I ended up wearing dark (tasteful) plaid wool pants, a dress shirt, a Polo tie (that I still own) and a jacket. The projected high for the day was 82 and, strangely enough, it was going to be humid.

I fudged some excuse about a longer than usual lunch break and made my way to SW Washington Street. The sweat began to pour off of me -- I looked like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. John ushered me into his office and said, "So tell me about yourself." Most of us at that time were trained to get this question answered in as few sentences as possible with maximum impact. We were also taught to try to turn the conversation so that it equated to an 80/20 ratio where the interviewer should talk about 80 percent of the time and you should pretty much keep your yap shut. They also trained us to find some common ground by telling something about ourselves that may be interesting. I failed miserably at all of it. I babbled about soccer and lacrosse, how I had studied in London and been accepted to graduate school in Denver (who cares?) and how great it was to work on movie promotions with DDB.

Then, it happened.

John asked me if I had any questions. By now I was completely overwhelmed, hot and itchy from all of the wool I chose to wear. I managed to blurt out this gem of a question: "So, why am I here?" I think even that one threw John off. He leaned back, let out a little laugh and said, "Well, we're always on the lookout for good, talented people. Your resume came to me and I liked what I saw." This pretty much ended the misery. As we both rose from our chairs, I knew that I would be sticking around the Bank of Tokyo a while longer. John shook my hand and said, "Good luck."

As I walked back to work in a state of complete disarray, I knew exactly why people in sports say that games are not won on paper. Come to think of it, the piece of paper that my resume was on would have done a better job in this interview because it would have said nothing. I, however, said way too many wrong things at just the right (wrong?) time.

Next Week: The idiot who wouldn't get off his mobile phone.

The Contest
OK, I promised a prize and this one is really good (though Red Lobster gift cards are always a crowd pleaser). I would like to hear about one of your really bad meetings. It could have been an interview, an internal meeting, sales meeting -- any kind of meeting. E-mail me at [email protected]. I'll collect them for a few weeks and judge them with a few colleagues. (This absolves Advertising Age of any responsibility) We will then announce three winners.

The Prizes
1st Place (Palme de Merde): $100 gift certificate on Delta Airlines. I would prefer that you use it to come visit the Pacific Northwest, but it's your call.

2nd Place: $50 gift certificate on Delta Airlines.

3rd Place: $25 gift card to Red Lobster.

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