I Worked in Internet Advertising and All I Got Was A Lousy Non Disclosure Agreement by Andi Vinciquerra
Cover illustration by Amy Elizabeth.
Cult leaders and Internet advertising managers have a lot in common: magnetic personalities, a false sense of entitlement, and an uncanny knack of getting people to hang on their every word. Office mentality is often like the mentality of a commune. “We will oppose critical thinking, we will all think the same, we all sleep together, we all kill together.” Not really, but you get it.
For six agonizing months, I worked selling Internet advertising to small business owners. I barely closed four deals. It was for this reason that I assumed it would be no big deal for me to quit. I was working for a review based website selling advertising to local business owners, and after I received my bonus for referring a friend I decided it was time to cash it in. When I grabbed my business casual manager on a Friday afternoon to say I wouldn’t be coming in anymore, I didn’t expect an ambush from the higher-ups at the office. After calling the Director of Sales to join in on the conversation, both women were flummoxed by the news.
“Are you depressed Andi?”
When I said the stress of this job limits my ability to think of anything else, they told me I wasn’t harnessing a work-life balance.
“You need to schedule yourself some time. On Tuesdays, go have drinks. Two days a week, set aside time to write. You need to work on your balance.”
I told them I felt the job made me anxious, that I was always thinking about it. Even if I closed a deal it didn’t matter, because the next month I would have to do it again and it didn’t seem to be getting easier. When addressing concerns with my job tired them, they tried insults.
“Okay so what’s Plan B? You go back to working retail? If you quit this job you will work in retail for the rest of your life.”
At the risk of the company suing me down to my teeth, I won’t use their name; instead, I will call them “Whimper”. Aside from learning an appreciation for all jobs that followed I also learned some important stuff about workplace environment.
1. The sales people who work in Internet advertising are a different breed of asshole.
You’re driving on the highway. A route you’ve driven one thousand times before. You barely pay attention; the car knows where it’s going. Unfortunately, you forget that today you need to get off at a different exit; you have half a mile. The middle lane you are driving in is slightly traffic-y but you throw your blinker on and try to merge right. You attempt to make it over, only for your eyes to meet the eyes of the driver in the exit lane. There is no one in front of his Prius, but he is matching your speed for some unbeknownst reason. You’re boxed in and you miss the exit, only for the Prius to merge over to the left as the sign flies behind you. Prius guy, and his insatiable need to be a self-centered prick, is every person who works for Whimper. The monster I just described has a bumper buddy and he drives with it down all the time. This guy wears a tee-shirt that says “UGH MONDAY AGAIN?.” He chest bumps. He went to college and holds his alma mater strong. He abbreviates in conversation. He refers to himself in the third person. This is your average Whimper employee. I call them, the Scene Stealers. Scene Stealers are bulk of the employees here but there are many layers to the Whimper hierarchy.
Next on the list are “The Beamers.” They have earned this nickname because of the unusual amount of attention they think is warranted simply for doing their job. The Beamers are often heard before they are seen. Usually erupting in a loud catchphrase the second they succeed, something along the lines of “ I AM A BOSS” or “THAT IS HOW YOU GET IT DONE.” They are ostentatious. They embody the Whimper lifestyle. They usually have some kind of deal closing ritual outfit; a cape of fake money, a wig, neon sunglasses. As they glide down the hallway to hit the gong after they close a deal, they take their time, making sure all eyes are on them. They bounce their shoulders to the beat of trap music, and they always hit the gong the hardest.
Then come the Sass Machines. The name comes self-appointed. Sass Machines love to give non-specific advice, and preach of their success. They often lead the HelpU training sessions because it gives them a soapbox upon which to preach. And BOY OH BOY do they LOVE to preach. Sass Machines can be seen sporting Forever 21 business casual fashion as they bounce through the halls and into their respective conference rooms to preach the good word of Silicon Valley.
Then there are the Solo Punishers. Too important to the makeup of the office to leave out, so unique they set their own class of mixed mongoloids. The most important is Fedora guy. Fedora Guy used to sit next to me. His face would fill me with rage. He would always wear black button down shirts, dark pre-ripped jeans, and dress shoes; to remind everyone that he is casual, but also classy. He had a different Fedora for each day of the week. When he talked on the phone, he liked to push his chair out from his desk, place it against the wall, and kneel at the desk in the area where his chair used to be. He had a hands free headset and took it very seriously. He had a photograph of himself on his desk. In the picture he was wearing aforementioned fedora, both hands drawn like guns, aimed at the camera.
The last and final tier to all this are the Manager Beasts. The male Beasts are often bigger, stronger, more efficient deal closing Scene Stealers. The female Beasts are the “something to prove” types. They love plastic statement jewelry. They walk around with a clear feeling of accomplishment. They begin every morning by reciting a power mantra in the bathroom mirror. “I am a strong, powerful woman, with the ability to do great things.” Then they put lipstick on, tuck their dick between their legs and dance like Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs.
2. They are constantly comparing everything to things they most definitely are not
Frogger to “control the conversation”, “leaving breadcrumbs”, “painting pictures”, slitting your wrists at your work pod so you can bleed out on your Mac keyboard. Whatever. The issue with the constant comparisons is they hope that layer after layer you’ll forget what is actually going on. It’s crazy when you think about it. In any other situation in the world, the inability to accept what’s actually happening makes you socially inept. But at Whimper, the more you use metaphor for your meaningless vapid job, the better.
Picture a douchey dorm college. The kitschy building names, the “unique” eateries, the modern but vintage decor. This is what Whimper is like. They name all the conference rooms after vintage video games (even though the median age of employees is under 30, and the only time they have played “Atari’ was probably ironically in Brooklyn, at some bar you’ve never heard of.) Currently, the office takes up five floors in a building in downtown Manhattan. Sprinkled throughout is a myriad of accouterments to forget the bigger picture, which is that you are a glorified telemarketer. Several kegs of beer on tap on every floor, (for a much needed “way to be a boss beer” after a hard day of trying to choke yourself with the phone cord.) Shuffle board and Foosball tables located by the kitchens they keep fully stocked, (so you never leave not even for lunch,) bean bag chairs, colorful couches, and video game systems, so you can sit on various Sims inspired furniture and cry at the idea that every single day at Whimper feels like there is a loaded gun pressed every so gently to the back of your head.
3. No one has any sound advice on how to better improve your tactics
Essentially, the way the job works is like this: each executive is given a territory to call into across the United States. In your territory you find businesses and spend your day calling them and attempting to set appointments so you can pitch the business model, and sell them advertising space as the recommended business on the Whimper website. Some people get major areas, NY, LA; places that are already familiar with the website. Other people get places in the middle of America. Those people are not really selling Whimper; they are selling the information super highway. When you’re the only auto shop in 49 miles, you don’t really need to advertise. Regardless, each person has a goal, and each team has a larger goal that contributes to office daily numbers, just like any other sales job. There is more that goes into the game plan, but as a result of that gnarly non-disclosure agreement I signed when I started, I’ll have to keep it general.
I tried at this job. I really did. In the beginning, I used to ask for help.
“It’s important that you write your goals on a post it note every morning,” my manager would say. “Its accountability.”
I’m not sure what the dictionary definition of accountability is, but I am certain it has nothing to do with creating an imaginary outcome and trying to will it into fruition.
“You need to use more assumptive language. You’re not being aggressive enough. Are you depressed? It doesn’t seem like you’re thinking positively!”
How aggressive should I have been? Seriously? “Hey Mike this is Andi from Whimper. ADVERTISE WITH US OR YOU’RE A FUCKING IDIOT.”
I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, I felt like I understood the product. I had used Whimper before as a consumer to laugh at angry reviews, and to find businesses, but regardless, I was struggling to sell it. My problem wasn’t with being a telemarketer. It wasn’t with the idea of making calls all day, or working in sales. I felt like some of the questions the business owners had I just couldn’t answer. I needed some tangible feedback I could work on to get better. I couldn’t work with the vague areas, and everything was a vague area. Service areas to determine distance of your ads? Vague. Filtering the reviews? Vague. Algorithms? Extremely vague. I might as well have been trying to sell people rainbows or peace.
“In any other situation in the world, the inability to accept what’s actually happening makes you socially inept. But at Whimper, the more you use metaphor for your meaningless vapid job, the better.”
4. Being a member of the management team requires no skill set
I am convinced they choose managers by the amount of GIFS they can store on their MacBooks, their ability to find heartwarming YouTube videos, and if they can put a headset on while they do some inane task, like juggle scarves or toss a football to some asshole across the room. Here’s an example of a typical manager email: “It’s that time guys! LWOM! You need to hustle your HARDEST. This week is about being a boss and setting your goals so you can absolutely crush them! I should see a post it note on everyone’s monitor setting realistic goals to help us achieve this! We may have hit target, but we haven’t hit quota, and I wont be happy until we do. Remember there is no try, only do! How about a little incentive for all of you? If you guys hit quota by 3pm today, we all go to happy hour, first two rounds on Whimper! Whaddaya say? I’M FEELIN THIRSTY. Be sure to send some motivation to the team to help do your part! I’ll check in soon! Until then here’s a gif of Puppies rolling on the floor to give you some daily cuteness!” – Sammi
They always include some trivial fact about our numbers/goals/targets, acronyms (LWOM means last week of the month,) at least three verbs that are trendy at college bars, a cliché positivity phrase, excessive usage of capital letters, a treat if we do what were told, and then a fucking GIF. And they are constantly baiting the “Account Executives” to achieve goals with alcohol. “If you make four thousand calls by 1pm, go pour yourself a frosty cold cup of “fuckyourself beer” from our keg downstairs,” If you manage to not jam your thumbs into your eye socket before the week is over, we WILL be hitting happy hour at “JerkoffBar NY,” and don’t worry guys I looked them up on Whimper and there is a DOPE check in offer!” I don’t care about rewards for doing my job. I don’t care about beers with a bunch of assholes. I don’t care about check in offers. For a while, I used to lie and write things like “close a deal,” or “schedule eight appointments,” but I’ve gotten bored of setting false expectations, so now I just write the things I know I can definitely achieve in the day, (petting my cat, smoking a cigarette.)
5. They get really offended if you don’t participate in their lifestyle.
Everyone has that one friend that requires more attention than a puppy. They call constantly. They’re single and get angry that you can’t always drink margaritas on a Tuesday night with them. They call constantly. That’s what Whimper is. The over attached significant other, the needy friend, the poorly house trained puppy. In my very short lived stint in the Whimper penitentiary, I had three different managers, and all had been disappointed by my lack of excitement for team outings and friendship. They don’t just expect your forty hours of work; they want you to understand that working for them means going beyond that. They want you to stay for Friday happy hours, play paintball with your team during the week, come early for breakfast, eat your lunch in the office, and give them your first born. You’re expected at the monthly company parties, with no outside guests. In fact, when I asked if I could bring my boyfriend to the office “prom,” they told me I was supposed to ask my work crush. THANKS BUT NO THANKS MANSON. Oh, and if I watch another Ted fucking Talks episode about the little engine that didn’t know he could, I’ll jump out of the fifth floor window.
When I finally quit, I broke the news to HR. After being told he didn’t know how I could lay my head down at night knowing I got off a rocket ship heading straight for the moon, he tried to have me sign an exit interview contract. The contract basically stated that I would not speak badly about Whimper at all, that I would report all future employers to Whimper, and that I would not mention the contract to anyone. They also let me know if I signed it, they would give me a nice cushy check for two hundred American dollars. Gee Whiz. I’ll try not to spend that all in one place.
I talk about this experience the way people who escape the Westboro Baptist Church speak of survival, with a newfound love for life and the opportunities that have come my way since. I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my life; Dancing Sub sandwich at Subway, retail manager, stilt walker at a circus bar, etc.; but nothing sucked as much as this one. When I first heard about the open opportunity at Whimper, I was working a retail job and was looking for something more geared toward a career with the opportunity to learn something new. It didn’t hurt that it was a pay bump, and had full benefits either. Since my departure, much to the chagrin of those still stuck in the perpetual mindset that they are better than everyone else, I did not stay in retail forever, but I actually landed a pretty great job with the City that I really enjoy. And as a result, I don’t spend every Sunday contemplating suicide when I think about heading in on a Monday morning, and I guess that’s the best gift of all.