The challenges of plain speaking

Nobody likes bad news. And fewer people like to give it, myself included.

Alas, now it’s part of my job description. The human reaction to shoot the messenger is so strong, I lost my first advertising job over it. Yes, yes, back in the days when the web was just catching on, and I was working as a Jr. Graphic Designer for KGA Advertising in Middletown, CT. On the print side of the house.

See, I had been there over a year and I had good contacts in corporate for Bob’s Stores, the anchor account which kept little KGA afloat. They had been the anchor account for 20 years. Complacency, anyone?

Anyways, I heard through the grapevine that Bob’s Stores was going to leave KGA for another Boston-based agency. I was even told the date, and told by my contacts that it was time to polish up my resume.

I was young and idealistic, so instead, I decided to bring the matter to the attention of the owner of KGA, Ken Gronbach. I offered to work 20 hours of overtime a week to help source, develop, pitch, and land a new business account. Why? Because, I told him, we were going to lose Bob’s Stores account.

Long story short, he couldn’t and didn’t believe it. He patronized me with my offer to put in extra hours, he didn’t heed the warnings, and then he got spooked when I a) wouldn’t tell him how I came by the information, and then b) kept insisting to him that he needed to get new business. I even gave him a date when they were going to let KGA go. I wasn’t the only one at KGA with connections at Bob’s Stores corporate, so soon Ken started hearing the news from other people, too.

He couldn’t handle it. He decided it must be my fault, and to be honest, given the patronization and the sheer willful ignorance Ken brought to the table, I was pretty upset with him. To the point that I fired off an email to a former coworker who had heard the rumblings and jumped ship a month earlier. It was early on in the internet, and I hadn’t gotten in trouble for writing true opinions in emails (yet).

Ken had IT pull my email records, looking for the mysterious ‘source’. (C’mon, Ken, I only ever dealt with one person at Bob’s Stores. How hard was it to figure out?!?) He found the bitter email to a former coworker, and fired me for it. Wham. I said nothing as I was being read the email… after all, the email had lambasted him better than me improvising at the moment would do. And then I left and fell into a better job elsewhere.

A week and a half later, on THE DAY, Bob’s Stores fired KGA Advertising. The anchor account was lost. The company started its death throes, and now KGA is but a memory.

Still sucks that they shot the messenger, though.

And now… giving bad news is part of my daily job. Hopefully the intervening decade plus has taught me better social skills. But I don’t lie, though I do overpromise without realizing it at times. Still, it sucks being the messenger. Especially when the bad news is… it’s not my company’s fault… it’s your own internal IT systems.

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