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The shrill alarm jarred Stormy into consciousness. Her bare arm darted from beneath the sheets and swatted the snooze button, knocking the clock onto the floor. Dazed, she freed herself from the tangled bedclothes and struggled to her feet. She didn't feel as if she'd slept at all, in spite of turning in fairly early. Restless didn't even begin to describe her night. "Damned deadlines!" she cursed.
This particular deadline, more so than any other in her brief career, weighed very heavily on Stormy's mind. She desperately wanted to nail a major account, and this was her big chance: her chance to really make a name for herself. A successful ad campaign would certainly open doors, and it would prove that she'd made the right decision in turning hobby into vocation.
Just over a year ago, Stormy burst onto the advertising scene. New in town and with no real experience or training in the field, she surprised the industry insiders with her gutsy ideas. Her freelance work caught the eye of a seasoned agency exec and, with a mixture of relief and regret, she accepted his job offer. Although she ultimately wanted to start her own company, the lure of a steady income was just too seductive. Since then, she'd been routinely cranking out quality work that, for some inexplicable reason, just wasn't producing the expected sales.
Stormy poured all her energies into her work, leaving precious little time for a social--much less a sex--life. She was good at it, and she knew it, which only heightened the frustration when her material was not as well received as she'd anticipated. She felt she really needed to pull off a major coup: an elusive campaign thatsucceeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. It would give her the name recognition needed to successfully launch her own business.
Her company announced the challenge on Friday afternoon, three days ago. Not a competition. Oh, no! That word was too laden with--well, competitiveness. Advertising executives, ever attuned to nuance, instead challenged the staff to produce, by one week from Monday, the outline of a multimedia ad campaign for a big new client. As incentive, the employee best rising to the challenge secured the position of lead project manager for that campaign with the freedom to handpick the project team.
As she drew her bath, Stormy recalled the rampant speculation preceding the announcement. Who was the client? What were they selling? Why an agency-wide challenge instead of just a regular assignment? Management assured them that the details would be revealed at four-thirty, on the dot. It was so typical of an ad agency to make a big announcement that there would soon be a bigger announcement. First rule of advertising: hype the hype!
At precisely half past four, the P.A. system crackled to life.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have been blessed with an unprecedented opportunity," the voice of the CEO boomed. "We have been given the chance to succeed where several of our major competitors have failed. If--no, WHEN--we succeed, we will have landed the largest account in the history of this firm. I know you will each give this challenge your best effort.
"The client is the government of Costa Rica. Tourism is a major source of income for this country. However, that income fluctuates significantly throughout the year due to the vagaries of the weather. The challenge, therefore, is to produce a multi-media ad campaign intended to increase tourism by at least fifty percent during the country's rainy season.
"The deadline is nine o'clock sharp Monday morning, ten days hence. Get busy."
For the last few minutes of the workweek, an eerie silence encompassed the office. Staff spent what typically would have been a time of jovial chitchat about weekend plans deep in thought. Everyone retreated to their cubicles and put on their proverbial thinking caps. Challenge indeed! What could be more of a challenge than making a vacation destination appealing in bad weather?
Over the weekend, Stormy immersed herself in the project. The Internet produced a trove of information about Costa Rica. All very interesting, but the ideas--brilliant or otherwise--continued to elude her. She flipped on the television and plopped onto the sofa with her coffee, mulling over what she'd learned. The Central American rainy season lasted from May through November, with the Pacific slope getting the most rain in September and October. She also learned that the Pacific slope featured the country's most popular tourist attractions: the active Arenal volcano with its hot springs and the Monteverde cloud forest.
Why, she pondered, would anyone want to go there this time of year? Was there a particular demographic group that could be targeted? The answers completely escaped her. Perhaps, Stormy told herself, she should just go there and find out for herself.
Impulsively, back on the Internet, she had no trouble finding a last minute spot on an abbreviated five-day/four-night Costa Rican tour. The charter flight departed Pittsburgh in less than four hours. Her passport was still valid. She had--just barely--enough cash. With surprisingly little internal debate, Stormy convinced herself to go for it. She dialed her supervisor's line and got through to the receptionist.
"Della, it's Stormy. I won't be in today. In fact, I won't be in all week. I'm going to take my vacation now, if that's okay with What's-his-face."
Della giggled. What's-his-face, their supervisor, was notorious for his inability to remember anyone's name. The staff returned the courtesy by bestowing the nickname. "I'm sure it will be, but what about--you know--the challenge? I figured you'd be all over it by now."
"I am, sugar. I am." Stormy explained, "I'm going to Costa Rica."
"Oh!" Della exclaimed, and after a pause to digest the significance of that revelation added, "You go, girl!"
"Do me a favor, will you? Please don't tell anyone where I'm going."