The Gate Keeper: Chapter 23 (The fixer arrives)
by Andrew Miller TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande is an agency in crisis. Their ‘basket of boutique services’ strategy has bombed. Only a massive new project can keep the doors open – all eyes are now on the corporate tent at Mangaung. Far in the background, an emergency replacement executive PA with decades of experience makes important decisions. Interns rise, board members take unexpected steps and things begin to change…
Past mistakes are buried, and the consultant discovers a huge pile of colourful bed sheets at the executive reception area…
The fixer arrives
TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande’s move to offering a basket of boutique services had been largely engineered by Arthur Harris, a fact which sat uncomfortably with the members of the organisation now forced to live with the results.
The idea had sounded attractive. Instead of trying to be all things to all brands, why not develop a range of speciality areas peppered with the skills and profiles of high profile industry players. Then create a ‘basket’ of services which would allow any client to feel comfortable in the arms of TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande, no matter what the need, or the job.
Concerns had been raised at the time that this was merely a badly disguised attempt to become one of those mega agencies. Arthur Harris had put forward a compelling rebuttal, the details of which escaped almost everyone involved seconds after they first heard it. Arthur Harris was particularly skilled at compelling.
And so the agency embarked on a log winded, complicated and near-fatal shift to its basket of boutique services positioning. It was the pre-2008 glory days. Budget was pouring through the streets of Sandton like a Texas oil spill, the world cup was looming, promising to change everything everyone knew about anything and, well, the horizon was wide, wide open.
Life travelled in a very different direction to the projections, however. By 2009 TBW Smith Jones Wallace Broadbent and Ndimande was over-staffed by at least forty employees, while offering services they were barely unable to understand themselves. The PR niche, for example, featured a cluster of twenty something girls in heels who seemed only to answer the phone in happy exclamation points.
Viral was worse, and digital, well, no one could figure out if the Israelis in that outside building were attached to the business or not.
Arthur Harris slipped away into a consulting gig with a venture capital outfit, where he stayed for a little over eight months, teaching the executives how to understand risk from the human perspective. It wasn’t a bad gig, but he was, if he was honest, disappointed by the whole TBWSJWBN thing. Sure, the global economy had evolved in a surprising direction, so it could hardly be considered his fault that the basket of boutique services had, uh, stumbled, but he still had his professional pride and every now and again he was struck by tiny twinges of, well, not remorse as such. Let’s just call it retrospective wistfulness.
He was, therefore, pleased to be back. There was nothing better, in fact, for Arthur Harris than an immediate crisis. Something that needed to be managed and controlled over a short time frame. Something where the outputs were immediate and obvious to all. Something he could, in other words, take by the scruff of the neck for a week or two. The Tim Broadbent thing was exactly right.
Arthur Harris strode through the TBWSJWBN creative commons nodding confidently at the few faces he was still able to recognise. He was back. It felt good.
He passed the bar area, which smelt a little funny to him, and crossed the threshold to the executive offices. He noted, as he had the day before, the form of a very old and large white lady seemingly drowning in multi coloured bed sheets. As was the case previously, she appeared to be manning the front desk.
“Excuse me,” Arthur Harris approached with confidence.
“Yes Mr Harris,” the bed sheets replied. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”
“Well,” he stepped back, struck both by her confidence and her clear understanding of exactly who he was. “Um, I, Nonhlanhla asked me yesterday if I would spend a little time with Tim planning his final days, so to speak, so I was just wondering, it’s been a while since I was here… is his office still down on the left?”
“I believe it is.” She peered sternly down on him. He made a note to check if the reception desk had somehow been artificially raised. It all seemed awfully high up.
“Ok, thanks. I’ll just…” he pointed down the corridor.
Mama E nodded.
Arthur Harris walked to Tim Broadbent’s office wondering how it had got so hot all of a sudden.