I Work For Cleve

What you are about to read is fiction. It may seem like something else, but it’s not.
I work for Cleve. I can’t understand why that’s such a tough concept to digest. I mean sure, I report directly to Steph, who reports to Tim. But Tim reports to Cleve, so it’s pretty clear. Cleve hired me, not Tim, nor Steph. Only Cleve knows how much I make. Tim may know. Steph does not know. No way does she know.
We all work for Cleve. All sixty of us. That’s how the creative department runs. From afar, you might think Cleve is a micro-manager but he’s not. He lets his underlings—the CDs and ACDs—do plenty. Sure, what they and their teams do day-to-day is mostly mundane. After all, Cleve saves the best for himself. It’s good to be King.
Working for one of these disgruntled CDs can be quite trying. When they discover, as some do, that I actually work for Cleve and not them, trouble looms.
“There’s such a thing as a chain of command, you know. And from here on, you will recognize it,” Steph scolded, one otherwise sunny day. She had become acutely aware of the fact that I work for Cleve, not her.
What she was really saying but not saying is, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” That’s what CDs say when they find out that you work for Cleve, not them. The CD wants to have the hire/fire privilege. They want to determine how much raise to give, or not to give. They want to dole out the best projects as they see fit.
“I’m placing you on probation. For subordination,” Steph said.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I told you to change the copy on that out-of-home before I went on vacation and you directly disobeyed me. Subordination.”
“Uh, I don’t think so. Cleve approved it.”
“Listen to me. You simply do not get it. You work for me. Not Cleve.”
“No, I work for the client. Then the agency, then Cleve, then Tim, then you.”
“This is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re impossible, and I’m over it. No raise and six months of probation. Sign this.”
I looked at her bemusedly for too long a time. I pondered what was underneath all this. She couldn’t care all that much about the outdoor. It was Cleve’s personal posse that was on her mind. The fact that Cleve had his go-to copywriters and art directors, who he freely cherry-picked, often at inopportune times for his own awards-in-mind projects, leaving the CD a hand short, bewildered and mad.
But I can’t help that I belong to Cleve’s posse. I didn’t try out for it.
“What’s this really about? That shoot I was on in Costa Rica? I know you wanted to be there. Who wouldn’t?”
“It’s about your attitude. Simple as that.”
Pretty much everyone knew that Cleve used his substantial discretionary budget to produce spec work, or fake work, that could then be submitted to the best awards shows. Cannes in spring is such a nice diversion. Anyway, he spent thousands on TV spots that never aired, when people could have had bonuses, trips to the spa, golf. Perks are big in advertising. And Creative Directors feel entitled to some.
“My attitude?”
“Your attitude.”



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.