Selling Smiles

I remember vaguely my very first day of work in an ad agency. As a new grad from Canada who has no idea what a normal dress code is for an ad agency, I was awkwardly overdressed for my first day – ironed long sleeve, nicely tucked into a pair of formal pants. It was rather fortunate that I didn’t have a tie to go, or else it would have been a bigger disaster – I would have been better dressed than the Managing Director.

Slowly I am introduced to the rules of the industry.

Official rules will always state that the working hours are from 9.30 am to 6.00 pm; hidden rule states starting from 10:00-10:30 is ok, and 6.00 pm is never a reality (though I still can’t understand why 80% of the industry won’t start work at 9.30 am sharp and go back at 7.00 pm). Official rules dictate proper attire; hidden rule says depending on the agency/studio culture, short pants and slippers are alright, especially for folks who hide in the studio most of the time. Official rules state an hour’s lunch break; hidden rule says it’s ok to go for a longer lunch break, as long as the work is delivered by the deadline. The industry always highlights the need to be flexible, as it is conducive to create a creative environment.

There are other unofficial rules which I have heard over the years. There’s a rule that dictates only Malay songs can be played aloud in the studio; for others, use earphones. There’s another where every month, one bottle of Nescafe will be bought for the studio; if it finishes before the end of the month, the studio has to come up with their own funds to replenish it. Here’s an absurd one – on predetermined days during the year, only the boss himself can walk through the main entrance and all staff had to go through the rear door – as according to the Feng Shui master. Nothing beats the most miserable one – every staff is allocated one roll of toilet roll per person per month, while the public toilet has no toilet roll. If one finished his allocation, he has to buy his own roll.

Creative industry – for the sake of being looked upon as creative, can sometimes be mind-boggling and full of nonsense, just like the quirky individuals who make the industry what it is.

Because it operates on the basis of flexibility encourages creativity, the creative industry can be very accommodating to moody people.

One can have a lousy day, glue his ears to his iPod headphones and not utter a single word to anyone except for his Mac (and maybe giving a one-line answer to whoever that needs it – “it’ll be ready by 6 pm”), and people are generally very tolerant about this: “He’s just another moody creative person having his mood swings but who cares? Creative people are notorious for their unpredictability anyways, and as long as the job is delivered on time…”

This is actually good compare to those who work in sales, servicing (or politics), where the personal state of emotions are not supposed to appear on the face.

Imagine working in Disneyland or any theme park. Even if the guy’s girlfriend left him yesterday and his world just came crashing down, he still has to sell the smiles to the world, once every 2 hours, 5 times a day. Or that girl who is assigned to play Cinderella, who could be hurting deeply inside, but has to continue with her duty to smile and smile, so that the world which had paid to see Cinderella get their money’s worth.

Those are tough jobs – spreading happiness even when one really needs to cry.