Mind Games

Chapter 1

“I know what Leblanc from BIG Agency told you,” said Addy Blanchard and paused for suspense.

The men and women of NOLA (City Government of New Orleans, LA) looked around and at each other. Jeff Sands, the man – he was the man in every sense of the word, had the ear of the mayor and whatnot – from the Office of Economic Development, said, “Leblanc made a big pitch. As you know Addy, we’re not in the position to disclose their plan.”

“He said you’ll have the full backing of one of the world’s most reputable ad agency and how there’ll be metrics, concrete data to show what the city got in return for the money.  Bradley Ingleman Grant may be Big but it’s like Big Impressive Gonads and people will still be talking about it after two years, or the gestation period of elephants.” Addy responded

“Pretty much, although not in so many words,” admitted Sands.

“You know what, that’s not good enough. We are offering you the chance of a lifetime. It may never come around again,” said Addy.

“It is a bold idea. The message is a bit controversial, to say the least. It’ll be a hard sell to the mayor,” the woman from the Mayor’s Office of Communications chimed in.

“I’ll say it again, the copies in this presentation are not final by any means. As long as you recognize the potential of this idea, you just have to fly with it and let us fine tune the message. That’s what focus groups and test audiences are for.” Addy observed the room, saw no objection, and went for the close, “At the end of the day, Leblanc can get you a few upticks in the number of tourists. We, on the other hand, have the potential to increase the number many times. It’ll be like the Super Bowl at the Superdome every day. The only question is can you handle it. Classier than Mardi Gras, nobody wants Mardi Gras every day. The mayor has a couple of years left. If this works, he’ll be running for Governor of the great state of Louisiana. There’s a nice ring to it. Tell him that.”

The idea was typical of Adelaide Blanchard. If it’s not going to make a splash, you had better add more water to it. Tourism is the biggest industry in the port city of New Orleans in terms of tax revenues. Unlike the other important industries like oil and gas and cargo and port transportation, tourism has virtually no growth limit. People can’t get enough of New Orleans, and that’s the truth. Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street go without saying, and jazz – Dixieland if you’re into the tradition or go big with the New Orleans big band jazz. And then there is the food. Even the gumbo and jambalaya in school cafeterias have a better oomph than those found in most restaurants in the rest of America. What else, the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans has just about the coolest name of all zoos. Not too many people know this, but Audubon means you can find at the zoo animals from Australia, Hindustan (also known as India), and Gabon (that’s next to Congo in Africa). When you have Audubon, all of the world’s most interesting animals are covered.

The French Quarter of New Orleans is the best of its kind in North America. The balconies are sexy beyond belief at night. The atmosphere blows people away. It is not like New York City where you either love it or hate it. It is more like Paris. Everybody loves Paris, right? It was true until recently. More than a few people are now scared of going to Paris after the recent bouts of terrorist attacks. So why not tell them to go to New Orleans instead?

That was the essence of Addy and Nawlins Tourisme’s pitch to NOLA for the ambitious promotion program for the city’s tourism. Big businesses and banks had been lined up for the funding. About $30 million dollars would be spent but Addy Blanchard, the star marketing executive at Nawlins Tourisme, was trying to convince them to triple that. She presented a TV commercial of sceneries in New Orleans that would pass for Paris, that would make people think of Paris, only to be revealed as New Orleans in the end, and that was not all – there was an additional quick scene of confusion and chaos and then the title: “New Orleans is the new Paris… but without the terror.”

Addy’s employer Nawlins Tourisme dealt only in things related to the tourism industry. They were competing against heavyweight international ad agencies for the driver seat of this campaign. More than 10 million visitors come to New OrlBlanchardeans every year, most of them Americans. Why shouldn’t tourists from China visit New Orleans rather than Paris? They can buy Louis Vuitton bags in New Orleans just the same. The Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees are bound to remind the Chinese of the Tiananmen tankman – not a happy memory – so if one would only reason with them, they could easily pick the St. Louis Cathedral and French Quarter of New Orleans over Paris. The Chinese love to gamble, so unlike Paris which is quite a distance from Monte Carlo, there are casinos within The Big Easy.

It was that easy to rack up a massive increase of tourists to New Orleans, according to Addy. The rest was out of her hand. The Government Office at 1340 Poydras where she made the presentation is a stocky black building that reminded Addy of her best copywriter, Ty Johnson, who was her only co-worker present. Nawlins Tourisme had their own graphics and production departments. There was not a hotshot creative director like traditional ad agencies. The marketing executives delivered the vision at Nawlins Tourisme and the artists, graphics designers, and production team carried it out. The room was packed with NOLA officers. Jeff Sands would make the call after consulting with the stakeholders.

Addy and Ty took their leave. Ty could not wait to get out of there. The job of a copywriter is an easy one unless the person has to make it more complicated than it is. It is easy for a copywriter to fall into that trap if he is unable to trust his first instincts and worry too much about what others will think. That was not the reason Ty was eager to get back to the office. He could usually waltz through a full day of copywriting in the first hour or two. He could not wait to get back to his own writing. Ty was working on the third book of his ghetto fiction series called Blacker. The first book of the series was a knockoff of The Godfather. It told the story of a powerful black crime family’s struggle to transform the family business into a legitimate enterprise, including a deal with the Vatican and all. When they finally pulled it off, they achieved the mythical status of becoming “blacker.” The second book of the series featured a troublemaker in the family. He grew disenfranchised with the family’s boring new businesses and became offended that people were now more terrified of radical Islamic terrorists than ghetto gangsters. So he led a few members of the family on a crusade against the wannabe terrorists in America who spoke glowingly of ISIS on social media, put the fear back in their coward hearts, and in the process became “blacker.” The third book which Ty was working on at the moment was about the family branching out into the deep-sea fishing business. They would disprove once and for all that black people are afraid of water, and after a climactic battle against Russian pirates in the Laptev Sea, they would once again prove to be “blacker.”

Ty couldn’t wait to get back to his writing. For now, he observed Addy huddle with Jeff Sands next to the projector screen. She was touching Sands on the arm and caressing him with her mesmerizing stare. A casual observer would think that she was putting on the charm, but Ty knew better. This woman got her way, one way or another. She would come up with some grand big idea and then spend a year of her life working on it. The boss let her do what she wanted. She worked alone because few people wanted anything to do with her crazy ideas, only she somehow managed to make them work. The creator of Blacker could dig that about her.

On the way out Ty couldn’t resist asking, “So Homegirl, how smitten was Mr. Sands?”

“I think they’ll bite in about a week,” said Addy with studied nonchalance.

“You think so, huh? Do you think he’ll dangle the governorship in front of the mayor?” Ty asked, without real expectation of an answer.

He got one anyway. “No, Jeff Sands is running for State Treasurer this year and he thinks he has a shot at being the Governor in four,” said Addy.

“Are you serious?”

“Just watch.”

They were in the car. It was a pleasant spring day in late April and Ty was driving. Addy rarely drove anymore and hadn’t in the last five years since she started working at Nawlins Tourisme. She claimed to hear what the other drivers on the road thought about her. Some drivers thought her face was too long, some were impatient with her driving, some wanted to undress her, and some wanted to do worse. It didn’t make a lot of sense to Ty, but for women, he thought it was about par for the course.

 

They were heading toward City Park. Nawlins Tourisme’s main office was on City Park Avenue in the vicinity of New Orleans Museum of Art or NOMA.

It seems that the world has created a series of art museums starting from AOMA to ROMA, eighteen in all. ROMA is of course in the city of Rome, the most pretentious museum in the series is MOMA in New York, and AOMA is Adelaide Official Museum of Art in Australia, or rather Addy Blanchard’s namesake. Her mother was a famous fortune-telling lady who had taken all her things inside and brushed off all questions about her eldest daughter’s name. Adelaide Blanchard was just her birth name and the name on her name card. In any event, it was a reliable system to tell friends from foes. Her friends called her Addy and she was Adelaide to the rest.

Ty would have to avoid the Fairgrounds area because the 10-day New Orleans Jazz Fest was happening at Fair Grounds Race Course. Addy’s last project had been to save the Fairgrounds from getting converted to a housing development. The aggressive developer had made the city and the Jazz Fest organizer an offer they could not refuse. The race course and the thoroughbred racehorses were against it but as it goes, horses have no say in such matter. What Addy did to save the racetrack was a touch of genius no one else could have thought of. The most important Derby by far in the United States was the Kentucky Derby. However, it showed its Achilles heel when the powers-that-be required everyone to call it by the name of the sponsor, Yum Brands Kentucky Derby. Addy could not believe the ickiness of the name and knew right there and then that she only had to find a cool sponsor for the Louisiana Derby to push it over the top. Companies such as Apple, Facebook and Twitter would not touch a horserace for political correctness, so what did she do? She came up with Social Media Louisiana Derby, and boom! Almost overnight the race became the most popular Derby in the country. It got so hot that the hard-luck developer had to drop his tantalizing prize. The century-and-a-half-old racetrack lived on.

Ty was also the copywriter for that project. He still could not believe how Addy was able to pull it off. He had a feeling another adventure was on the horizon.

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