The sun rises rude and intense and disregarding of the headache that presses dully with each heartbeat. I try to hide my face in the pillow but without the blinds drawn it is like trying to stay dry under a waterfall. I surrender and go through the routine: coffee, shower, clothes sticking to a wet back. I pause to look at myself in the bathroom mirror. Through the steam hazing my image I see a man older than I remember, bruised under eyes dark and veiled with sleep, jaw set in a hard line. The mirror-man used to smile sometimes, sometimes growl, sometimes look playfully back, but more and more he looks like this man, tired and aging.
Before I leave I go in to kiss her. She is awake.
“I’m off to work,” I say, “I hope you have a good day.”
“You too,” she replies, throwing off the covers. “Can you put the kettle on before you leave?”
A nod and a trip down the stairs, kettle switched on, followed by the long drive to work, NPR talking in energetic voices about the emerging news of the day.
The office is open-air, intended to imply equality with the executives working next to the office managers and junior sales associates. It certainly gives that impression — so long as one doesn’t compare paystubs or the gender of the leadership. It’s a tech startup, the kind of company that has transformed my home on the Front Range of Colorado from a once-sleepy mountain town full of hippies and cowboys into a hipster and Tesla-filled upwardly mobile, increasingly crowded region.
My position is in marketing, that slippery first cousin of advertising. I’m the Content Marketing Manager, a fancy way to say I get paid to write stuff that drives customers into the wide end of a marketing funnel, not unlike the giant fishing nets cast by professional fisherman to catch as many fish as possible, never mind the occasional drowned dolphin or sea turtle.
I nod at my team, take my seat, open my laptop, and stare at it blankly. It’s Monday and we have our weekly marketing meeting at 9:30. I pass forty-five minutes in an under-caffeinated crawl of work until we are finally summoned into the large modernist conference room dubbed the rectangle. Clever — as the room is, in fact, rectangular.
We take seats around the table, a beautiful single cut of exotic wood with slivers of glass through the middle of it. My boss, Steve, is eight years younger than me. He’s an executive vice president, or EVP, which means he’s very ambitious and very good at his job, since most EVPs are in their forties or fifties. He’s a blonde, youthful-looking man prone to wearing tucked-in checkered shirts with designer skinny jeans squeezed over heavy legs. He wears that universal badge of hipsterhood, the groomed beard, on his oval face. He gets his hair cut every two weeks so it never changes in its perfect, gel-infused, breaking blonde wave.
Steve has the California habit of ending every third or fourth sentence on an up-note, making his statements sound strangely like questions.
He is speaking. With effort I pay attention. “So the thing is, when we look at inbound marketing streams and how they impact the bottom line, we need to look for metrics, of course. How do we measure marketing success, right? We haven’t done a good job of that yet — we’ve been understaffed, which isn’t an excuse — but now we have the right team in place and so we can put those metrics in place to see what kinds of impacts we’re having before an inbound lead gets handed off to a BDR on the way to becoming an MQL, and our results from last quarter stand up pretty well — I’m glad we have Jamie now to handle this better than I could? So we’re in good shape, but we can do better, right? So for today, let’s go around and talk about where you are in supporting this quarter’s MQLs and SQLs, with the purpose of making sure we’re not getting too siloed in our roles but are working in ways that are making the team operate as one. Not that we don’t have our own projects. But I’m concerned that our silos — our swim lanes — are too narrowly focused? So while Logan is mainly in charge of MQLs, Jen really takes over halfway through the sales cycle, converts them into SQLs for the BDRs, and Jamie tracks our ROI and engagement along the way so we can track our success — not that it’s always trackable week to week — so we can dynamically steer marketing? We have some big projects coming up in Q2. Let’s start with Logan and get everything onto the table.”
I clear my throat. Fucking marketing acronyms. BDRs. SQLs. MQLs. RFPs. CPCs. CRs. ROIs. USPs. They are endless. In most meetings, half a dozen get dropped. I say my bit for the meeting. With some modesty I can say that I’m a good writer. My job is largely about writing. But when it comes to fitting into a company culture, in presenting things inside the accepted silos of communication, in working as part of a team, and in caring about a corporate mission, I’m afraid my experience is as lacking as my heart. Yet here I am speaking with relative competence about a piece of paid content I am creating for the company to generate more emails for our list and to get more people interested in an upcoming webinar. All stuff that generates MQLs, or market qualified leads — which can, in turn, lead to five- or six-figure accounts for the company.
Jamie is a young Korean woman who joined the company after me, as sharp and fast as a guillotine, her intense drive filtered through often-dismissive Millennial sarcasm. I’m a little scared of her.
“Uh,” she says, a finger twirling around a long strand of black hair, curled at the ends. Her eyes roll from her computer to me, without any movement of her head. “So, like, you’re going to write that up this week?” I know, somehow, she went to Oral Roberts University, which makes her and me not just different kinds of people but a different species altogether.
I nod. Jamie is wearing black thigh-high socks and a blue skirt. When she sits and crosses her legs as she is doing now, there is a four-inch gap of skin I try not to notice. An off-white blouse drapes each shoulder and is secured up to the modest second-to-last button. A gold cross hangs from her neck just above the unseen chasm of her cleavage.
“So, uh, are you, like, setting up metrics to track the inward bound traffic to see where people are coming from when they get to the paper?” She puts on a pair of designer glasses with angled black frames.
I look around the table. Jen, another young colleague, blonde and blue eyed and recently a mother, is staring hard at her computer screen. Steve is looking at me, a groomed eyebrow raised in anticipation. I’m a relatively new hire, after all, and one he made, so my competence is a direct reflection on him.
“Well,” I say, stalling and thinking, “Yes.” I pause. I then make a tactical decision to not bullshit, because I’m pretty sure I’ll get busted. “But I could use a little help in getting that set up.”
“Good,” Steve says quickly. “Jamie, can you help Logan with that?”
She sighs and there is the tiniest roll of her eyes. “Of course.” My hand reflexively goes to my neck.
“Okay,” Steve says, “Thanks, Logan. Jen, do you want to walk us through where you are in supporting the BDRs?”