Exit Interview

How do I feel about leaving DeskEffects under these circumstances? Well, considering no other options were available to me, I feel fine. I stood up for what’s right, and that’s what matters.

My friend in accounting thinks I was stupid to take a stand for what he dismisses as a pointless marketing disagreement. “It was just a coffee cup,” he summarized – incorrectly, I might add, because it wasn’t the goddam coffee cup, it was the mindset behind the coffee cup, the ongoing short-sightedness that I’ve dealt with every day at this company. The suits complain that they can’t build market share, then they put on the fake nose and glasses and pretend to be just like their competitors, spouting bullshit phrases like “industry standard” and “end-user expectations.” Let’s be honest, what the end-user expects from DeskEffects is that we be just as generic as the next guy, just like everyone else in the promotional items industry. It’s like the status quo is a tiny island and the tide is rising, so everyone just clumps closer together. I said, “Let’s get a boat and get the hell out of here.” But I see DeskEffects is afraid of boats. They’re afraid of everything.

For the record, I’ve seen the focus group data. I know what the research says about coffee mugs. But if you don’t challenge the status quo, you’re never going to evolve. Know what the most common epitaph for corporate gravestones is? “We kept doing it the way we always did it.” Yes, I admit, my idea was bold – but that was the point. I wanted to shake things up. So when Ginny showed me the mock-up, I said, “How about we try the logo on the other side?” She says, “I don’t understand.” I say, “Put the logo on the other side of the mug.” She stared at me blankly for a second before she said okay. I should have known from her expression that it wasn’t okay.

Ten minutes later Cosworth calls me in. I wasn’t even thinking about the coffee cup by then, but when I see Perry from Sales and Angela from Operations in Cosworth’s office, I know Ginny has sold me out. Cosworth says he ran into Ginny in the break room, which is bullshit because Cosworth doesn’t mingle with the rabble, and he asks me if I want to explain myself. That’s exactly what he said, “Do you want to explain yourself?” Like he’s my dad and I just broke the lamp.

I said there’s nothing to explain – I just wanted to try the logo on the other side of the cup. They all get this look like we’re in court and I just confessed to the crime. “I don’t understand,” Cosworth says like he’s one of the D.A.s on Law & Order. “Was there a problem with Ginny’s prototype?”

I told him we always have the logo on the same side, facing outward for left-handed drinkers. 200 corporate mug orders a month and the logo is always on that side of the mug. The whole point of a logo mug is brand awareness, yet we have the logo facing away from the drinker. Perry interrupts to say the logo works perfectly for right-handed drinkers, which is true, but that just proves how pre-Internet his brain is. Think about it, you get your coffee, you sit down at your desk, you’re going to relax a minute and check Facebook or CNN and you start mousing with your right hand and drinking coffee with your left. Even lefties do that. The right-hand mouse routine is like a national edict. Why not acknowledge that? Why not capitalize on that? Which is basically what I said.

“The person with the mug is probably already our customer,” Cosworth insists. He said we aren’t trying to sell our clients to them, we’re building brand-awareness with their coworkers. Which pretty much negates Perry’s right-handed argument, and I point that out, which pisses off Perry, who’s still pissed at me for bringing the sticky-note logo transparencies from 90% to 40%, but that’s another story. Then Angela says that she likes having the logo on both sides of the mug, which is exactly what you’d expect from Angela – she owns that Corolla out there with the back bumper that looks like the bulletin board in a college dorm. I never liked that school of thought for mugs – do we put a logo on both sides of the motivational posters? The neoprene iPhone cases? The branded hand-sanitizers? Of course not. Hell, why not put the logo on the bottom so it’s visible when it’s in the dish drainer? I told her we’re trying to make a product that people will use, not just a repository for logos, and Cosworth says that the logo is the whole point of the cup, like he just graduated from Promotional Items 101. He was eyeing me like I’m some art-school undergrad arguing for logo-less minimalism, when all I wanted was to put the logo on the other side of the mug.

So I told them, let the client decide. They act like the client is god, like DeskEffects is some two-bit convenience store whose owner credits his success at selling over-priced bottled water and Little Debbie snacks to his stalwart commitment to the mantra, “the customer is always right.” Let me tell you, when it comes to tchotchkes, the customer isn’t always right – most of the time, the customer is an idiot looking for a vessel to fill with jelly beans. Pitch the idea as an improvement and they’ll say, “Gosh, I love improvements. Give me a gross.” So I said let the client decide, and Perry folds his arm like the buck was going to stop right there and says, “We are NOT going to put this in front of the client. That’s not how we do things.”

So I told them where to put the coffee mug. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say it’s unlikely I’ll be eligible for rehire. I’m sure Perry is going to find a way to let the folks at Office Gear and MotivationL know about this incident, too. That’s his word for it, an “incident.” But I’ve seen their products, and as near as I can tell, no one over there is trying to push the envelope with ceramic mugs either, so screw it. I’m washing my hands of the whole goddam industry. Right after I go home and print some stickers of my personal logo – which may or may not feature a single, extended digit – and stick them to the wrong side of some blank Cost Plus mugs. Watch for the FedEx tomorrow. If you see her, let Angela know that hers is the one with more than one sticker. She’ll know which one.



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