I hadn’t worked with Hamish for a while, but early the next year I started to work with him again on a new business pitch for a brand of hair colouring. What was it about him that I found so intoxicating?  He always seemed so alive; he laughed at my jokes and made me feel witty and animated. Wherever he was, people were laughing and joking—more than anything it was that infectious laugh and having been made, at thirty, the youngest ever full board director of the agency.

Pitches had to be squeezed in on top of your normal workload, so Hamish often wandered along to my mini-office at the end of the day to discuss progress. He flung an art bag down by my desk, loosened his tie, pulled up the spare chair, and sat forward with his elbows on his spread knees. His white shirt was unbuttoned at the neck, showing the start of his enchantingly smooth chest. Cherubic.

‘Soo, what’ve yuh gut fer me?’ he purred.

It had been raining solidly all afternoon, and my small office was muggy and warm. The yellow electric light made it feel cosy and intimate. I shut my eyes and I could smell his aftershave. I forced my mind on to the hair colorant market and forced my eyes back open. My analysis implied that we should go for older women trying to cover grey hair. Younger women accounted for quite a chunk of sales, but my insight was that they were far less brand-loyal. If you wanted to invest to build a brand you should target older buyers who would become loyal to one shade. These older women did not want to change their hair colour, they did not want people to notice, they just wanted their hair to look the same as five years ago.

‘Weel tha’s somethin’ I cun relate tuh!’ joked Hamish, referring to his receding hairline.

‘Oh, you look fine,’ I said, sneaking the opportunity to stroke his thinning halo of golden curls with the backs of my fingers. ‘Very distinguished.’     

I was quite proud of the presentation I had prepared and was about to reveal to Hamish. It was unusual to suggest moving a brand up-age. He would be impressed, we would win the business, we would work together on it…and then who knows?

I had done my own interviews with older, regular hair colour users and had uncovered their dissatisfaction with products that steadily bleached out their hair’s natural colour. Our brand was low in ammonia, so less likely to damage their hair and turn it dry and orange. I carefully developed my counterintuitive strategy, finishing with the punchy line that summed up my creative brief: ‘We won’t change your hair colour!’ 

‘Och, tha’s a wee bit unfortunate,’ said Hamish. ‘Have yuh no’ seen the crea-ive werrk yet?’  

It is not unusual in a pitch situation for the creatives to start working on an ad at the same time as the strategists are working on their presentation. Sometimes the two just match up by luck, perhaps with a bit of tweaking. Sometimes a skilled presenter, such as Hamish, can make the two hang together even if there are some contradictions. Anyway, if the creatives hit on a great ad it is always possible to retro-fit a convincing strategy.

Hamish picked up the art bag and pulled out some roughs. The creatives had proposed using Culture Club’s catchy song ‘Karma Chameleon,’ and their ads showed vampy models in stylish situations—night clubs, jungles—with their hair dyed red, gold, and green.

Selling is similar in many ways to seduction, and I had every confidence in Hamish’s abilities, but even he would have trouble convincing the client that this work met my strategy.

Sometimes, when you get tired and frustrated at work, the emotions redirect themselves into sexual passion. I find. I could feel my old crush intensify to such a degree that I felt like jelly from the waist down. 

Hamish decided that we might as well discuss our problem in the pub, so we put on our coats and walked out of the agency. It was dark but the rain had stopped. Hamish was saying sweet things to me about how I was so easy to work with, how he had always found me so marvellously pragmatic, and how great it was that he always knew he could rely on me to be reasonable and find an imaginative solution to any problem. Suddenly I stopped and grabbed the wet iron railings that ran along the pavement. Facing away from him, I said to my dripping hands, ‘I have to tell you, Hamish…I just feel I’m going to grab you one day in a meeting, I fancy you so desperately…’   

Hamish put his hands on my shoulders and turned me towards him in a tender, brotherly way.  ‘Och, yuh silly wee thing, yuh knoo I’m maarried!’ he laughed (not very infectiously on this occasion), and he steered me gently around the corner towards the pub. The fact that he kept his arm around my shoulders, even as we entered the pub, told me my feelings were unrequited: if he wanted an affair he would have been afraid to be seen with me. His warm, confident hug showed there was no reason for gossip. All he desired from me was that I totally rewrite my strategy presentation to fit the crappy creative idea. Which I did, of course, because that was what the agency paid me for.

For months afterwards Hamish winked at me conspiratorially whenever he saw me, and I started to hate having to walk past his office to get to my own. I suppose I was lucky he didn’t sue me for sexual harassment. And lucky that we didn’t win the business and I didn’t have to work with him on it.

 

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Seduction