Just put it on my tab.
When I first started working in advertising, I worked as a Media Planner at one of the largest agencies in the country (perhaps the world, that’s what they told us). The thing about working in Media is that they pay absolutely sucks at the entry level, but the perks are ridiculous.
For the uninitiated, Media Planning and Buying is the process of deciding where a commercial should show on TV, in a magazine or in any other space where ads can go. There’s a science to it, seriously, and understanding who is taking in what media vehicle and when is an integral part of perpetuating and maintaining the efficacy of an ad campaign. You need to control who sees what and when so that your product is sold to the right people at the right time.
But like I said, the pay sucks, but the perks are amazing.
As a newly minted Media Planner, you get introduced to the world of media sales and media sales reps. Sales reps are the people who come to the office, show off all of the cool stuff that they can do for you and then do a dog and pony show to convince you to give them all of your money. At 23 years-old, when you’re essentially controlling millions of dollars worth of your client’s money, you’re in an advantageous position; and they know this. So they shower you with all kinds of perks, gifts and incentives to remember them when it’s time to make a buy. They know you’re broke, so they exploit you and those like you.
Lunch at Smith & Wollensky? No problem.
Dinner at Gibsons? Sure.
Box seats at the Bulls game? C’mon in.
Drinks at the W? Alrighty then.
You’re introduced to a six figure world while you’re still scraping by with two roommates and qualifying for a forbearance on your student loans. You’re living the life. Meeting celebrities, going backstage and impressing your friends. All you have to do is promise to buy an ad on the Food Network or place four pages in Ladies Home Journal over the next twelve months.
Drinks on them.
As I’ve progressed in my advertising career, I’ve moved on past Media and into Strategic Account Planning (or whatever name it’s called this week) which, while being more sexy and far more profitable, doesn’t illicit the same degree of ass-kissing from vendors and sales reps. You don’t have money and you don’t have influence over the money so screw you, there’s a kid that just graduated from the University of Iowa who wants Filet Oskar. But like I said, you get more money and you get more status, so instead of waiting for the folks from TV Guide to take you to The Palm, you can afford to take yourself.
You’ve actually made it. You’ve actually arrived.
I knew that I wasn’t a broke Media Planner anymore when I was able to go out to dinner and order what I wanted off the menu without looking at the prices. I could afford to get what I wanted and not just what I could pay for. It’s a whole new world when you can get something without owing someone something.
My friends and I all came of age and financial worth at about the same time. While I was toiling away trying to create media schedules for 81 pesos a year, my friends were in Medical School or Law School toiling away at their prospective careers for roughly 86 pesos a year. We were all broke but on the same trajectory towards our professional goals. To paraphrase Kanye West, we were trying to get to the Wait ‘Til I Get My Money Right Phase of adulthood. That place where you can finally get what you want and not take what you can get. A few years of really hard work for a lifetime of some serious rewards.
So when we finally started making it, we started showing it.
Better clothes. Better cars. Better apartments. Upgrading our lives in general.
But the real test of personal accomplishment was the bar tab.
*please note that I am not promoting nor do I condone binge drinking or alcoholism.
**please note to the previous note that I’m not sure where the line is drawn between the two.
***please note to the notes above that any proceeding hypocrisy is purely unintentional.
****please note if you are my mother, please read the above notes and stop reading now.
The thing about running a tab is that you’re handing over your card to the bartender or waiter and saying, “Hey, there’s plenty of money there. Let it ride.” The other thing about a bar tab is that it allows you to buy food and drinks for your friends and trade rounds as a sign of generosity born from prosperity. You can share your good fortune with others as they share their good fortune with you and, at the end of the night, you can look at the damage you’ve done to your personal finances and think, “Meh, I spent a little too much money, but I’ll be getting more really soon.”
I’ve gone out on many occasions and decided to run a tab only to wind up buying a bottle/bottles of champagne, covering a meal for my friends and taking care of an entire night out for those around me. Why not? I worked hard for it, so I’m going to spend it the way I like.
Eat, drink and be merry.
This past weekend, I went to Washington DC to hang out with some friends and former classmates for a football game. It was a weekend that we’d been planning since March and, since we’d already paid for tickets and hotel rooms, it seemed like it would be prudent to go as long as I was responsible with my spending. In fact, after missing Vegas and a few other gatherings this summer, I felt like I owed myself a chance to get out of town and smile for a few days. But I had an issue going into my trip.
I couldn’t run a tab.
You see, my friends are all climbing the ladder and becoming independently successful in their given fields. It makes me happy to see them because it’s a chance to gauge everyone’s progress and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. Not just professional or financial, but to see people who are engaged, married or even have kids on the way having known them from back in the day when we drank Olde English and Colt 45 in the dorms at Morehouse. I always enjoy having that time with them.
But I couldn’t run a tab.
Unlike my days in the past where I could join in on the fun, I felt like I was merely an accessory to it. I didn’t feel like I was fully participating. I felt like an outsider, or worse, when someone had to buy me a drink, I felt like a ward of my friends. They had to carry me, and while I know they don’t mind, it was unsettling to be in that position. I should do more, I have done more and I probably do more in the future, but that moment exposed what I felt was my weakness.
I couldn’t run a tab.
The thing about sending out resumes or waiting for callbacks from prospective employers is that you’re not in control of any of it, especially in this economy. They have the power to pick and choose because they know that there are other people out there who are capable of and willing to do the job you’re pursuing. Their urgency is ambiguous unlike your which is tied to dwindling funds.
Words like “soon,” “almost” and “shortly” are analogous to the frustration of waiting. Soon isn’t finite. Almost doesn’t mean anything. Shortly is ambiguous. In the meantime, there are more hoops to jump through and more ladders to climb in order to stay in the running for the job.
“We want to make a decision, but after you interviewed with the nineteen people in our office, we’d like you to interview with one more person who won’t be available this week…”
“We like you and your credentials, but we’d like to see more samples of your work and get 47 more references from some of your middle and high school teachers…”
“We want to make an offer, but we still want to see if this position meets our needs…”
Unlike the days as a Media Planner, I’m on the other side of the table trying to woo them and offering up my services in a dog and pony show without any guarantee on a return on personal investment. They’re like the 23 year-old controlling the purse strings and I’m the guy from BET asking if they like sushi. All the while, I’m running up my professional tab with them.
Want to see my portfolio? No problem.
Need some more references? Sure.
You’d like me to work freelance for a while? I’ll be right there.
Two more interviews? Alrighty then.
This keeps adding up and adding up and adding up to the point where you’re personally and emotionally spent. Two steps forward, two steps sideways. But unlike paying the tab for your friends, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a return. This round’s on you and they might just skip out before it’s their turn to pay. Also, unlike with your friends, paying this tab is more frustrating that not being able to pay the tab at all.
Your pockets might be thin, but they don’t care. They just want more. Drinks on you.
Sometimes (although rarely), I miss the days of Media when people offered me unsolicited perks. They knew I couldn’t financially afford to go to certain places or have certain experiences, so they provided them for me. I didn’t have a problem with that, they wanted something from me.
This weekend, I missed the days where I could offer up unsolicited perks for my friends. I could do it and I wanted to do it because I wanted to go certain places and share certain experiences, so I provided it for them. I feel bad because I can’t do that, I want to do something for them.
Now I’m in a position where I have to come through with whatever I’m asked from a prospective employer. I have to do what they want because they dictate the experience. I wish I didn’t have to do certain things or provide them with their litany of requests. I feel bad because I don’t know if them wanting something from me can prove that I can do something for them.
I’ll tell you what, though; when the whole thing evens out and I’m back to where I was, I’ll make sure that I buy a round for everyone that’s been there for me. I’ve been given too much, put what I owe you on my tab.