We had finished the workshop early. A combination of physical and intellectual exhaustion and the mind focussing anxiety of a long haul flight back to various cities in Europe had at last achieved, amongst our dysfunctional clients, a calm consensus tinged with just a little smugness.
As flip charts were being numbered, folded and placed in art bags and the flotsam and jetsam of the product stimulus stored in captains’ bags, the mood of my colleagues was lifted by the prospect of a weekend in Manhattan, shopping halls bedecked and dressed as only Manhattan at Christmas knows how
Thanking my colleagues for their efforts and great enthusiasm in the face of some highly uninspiring clients and some chippy agency folk, I let them know that it was now officially the weekend and the real fun could commence. I suggested cocktails at the Pen Top Bar at seven o’clock, giving my colleagues three of hours of free time – but not necessarily cheap given the exchange rate!
I left the Agency where our 3 – day workshop had been held, and headed up Madison. I was immediately hit by the full multi-sensory package of a Friday afternoon in Midtown on a holiday afternoon in December.
The last splodge of blue sky was fading now; the air was cold and smelled of the usual mix of pretzel salt, roasted chestnuts and automobile exhaust fumes. The soundscape was dominated by the noise of gridlocked cars, the whistles of NYPD traffic wardens, charity bell ringers and the claptrap of pedestrians walking in that focussed way to wherever it was that they were going. I was making for 5th Avenue and St Thomas’, where I was hoping to catch one of the services.
I knew the calming quiet of the stone and the beauty of the canticles would transform my spirits and restore my energies for what lay ahead when I would be meeting the team intent upon some serious R&R.
I was walking westwards along 45th, when temptation suddenly presented itself in the shape of Saks Fifth Avenue. Since we creative types in marketing don’t wear ties anymore, finding interesting ways to differentiate ourselves and reveal character is an important business task and not just a matter of personal vanity. I knew that Saks had an excellent range of stripy socks.
The side entrance took me to a small treasure house display of leather and jewels, and from there I found myself in the fragrant bling of the ground floor, a shrine to the industry of beauty. I took the elevator to the men’s designer gallery on 7th, and as its doors opened, I started scanning the scene with a strategic shopper’s eye.
No more than 10 minutes later, I had handed over my credit card and paid and was now carrying a seasonal Saks shopping bag containing numerous pairs of socks, a silk handkerchief and a woollen hat and scarf. The sugar rush from shopping had revitalised me. But I also needed to visit the toilet. Moments later, I was back at the elevator just to the right of what Saks called the Men’s Lounge. The door opened and I walked in
The car was empty apart from a random Father Christmas figure who looked straight out of central casting
‘Hello Santa’ I said, emboldened by my impulse purchasing success.
He turned and smiled and said:
‘And you are an advertising man, are you not?’
Well, I was carrying a small art bag, so I suppose this was an easy guess to make; and I was indeed an ex –adman. But I had long since given up trying to explain the difference between an adman and the tricky concept of a brand consultant.
Before I could answer he said,
‘Do you handle charity accounts, what I believe you call, not for profit- services which have a social value?’
I nodded slowly as if he were a Santa of limited intelligence
‘Well please take a look at this and see if your Agency would like to work with me….’
He handed me a small carefully wrapped, Christmas gift with a rather formal envelope…
‘People don’t seem to believe in Father Christmas anymore and maybe, your group could help change that…’
The elevator door opened at the second floor, and looking at me fervently, he said,
‘Take a look and if you are interested, come and talk some more tomorrow- you’ll find me in my workshop on the eleventh floor’ and then he was gone.
The doors closed, and seconds later I was walking up 5th Avenue towards St Thomas’ and Choral Evensong.
Later, much later that evening in the banter of post workshop cocktails, I told my colleagues about my meeting with Santa, and we started to come up with all sorts of ideas about how we could reposition Santa, and as Martini followed Martini, the ideas naturally became sillier.
The following morning, after a couple of false starts, I got up and found the small parcel. I opened it to find it was a small book entitled The Gift. I flicked through about a hundred pages of fairly dense text and then opened the envelope. Inside was an elegant Carte de visite, bearing the name Nicholas Myra with a 5th Avenue address. There was also a small piece of text on it, which looked like a Latin quotation:
‘Quas dederis solas semper habebis opes’
A rapid search on my IPhone showed this to be one of the epigrams written by Martial the Latin author, and a very liberal translation of the line would be:
‘You only truly own what you give away’
So not a bad motto for this Santa with a penchant for Latin tags, I thought, but let’s find out exactly what he was offering me.
After coffee, and a re-invigorating walk in the park, I walked down 5th back to Saks.
The Christmas multitude was already gathering and I had to push my way through the crowd at St Patricks back into the ground floor hall. I made for the bank of elevators and was able to slide into the last place in a car. I turned and looked at the floor plan and noticed there was no 11th floor. I’ll take the 10th I thought to myself and find a staircase.
The door opened and I appeared to be in the administrative area where I was met by the gaze of a friendly but rather formal senior Associate
‘Can I help you, Sir?’
‘I’ve been invited to a meeting with one of your colleagues on the 11th floor’
‘We have no 11th floor, sir…’
‘But I met your Santa yesterday and he invited me a meeting at his workshop on the 11th floor- here’s his card…’
She looked at the card, there was pause and then she said slowly and earnestly
‘We have no 11th floor; we have no Santa Associate. This is Saks Fifth Avenue, sir, perhaps you have us confused with Macy’s?’
‘But I met him yesterday- please look at the card…’
‘Sir, can I get you a glass of water?’
I demurred and retreated back to the elevator…I looked down at the card, there was no name, no address, and there was no longer any Latin words to be seen…but there was a short sentence in English:
‘What you give of yourself shall alone remain as your permanent riches. Good will to all men, Happy Christmas!’
I stood there for a few moments and then I began to smile.
I was still smiling as I walked out of Saks and into the fast flowing sea of festive people on 5th, and in the distance, I could hear a carillon playing Santa Claus is coming into town.