Direct Marketing — Saskia McCracken

Duncan was interviewed in the basement of a converted townhouse in the city centre. He sat opposite a panel of three people. The man on the panel was wearing a suit that looked like his, bought in Primark. The two women were wearing strong perfume and one woman had lip-gloss that made little strings between her upper and lower lip when her mouth was partly open, as she wrote things down. She didn’t ask him anything. She just took notes. The other woman was in charge. She spent the interview leaning towards him with her hands clasped on the table, looking straight at him. Whenever he looked away and back again, she was looking at him. The man asked him if he felt that he had leadership qualities, if he had ambitions to manage his own team one day. Duncan said yes. She asked him where he saw himself in five years’ time. He said, sitting in your seat. They looked impressed. They asked what his strengths and weaknesses were. He said his strength was team leadership and his weakness was obsessive attention to detail. The other woman continued taking notes.

They told him that every member of staff that they hired had the fantastic opportunity to become the manager of the next branch that they were opening. They preferred people with no experience. That way, they could train them according to the company standards without coming up against any bad sales habits. They told him the role was Direct Marketing. Nothing like door-to-door sales. No. That was a thing of the past. Direct Marketing meant bringing the product to the potential client, and developing a face-to- face connection with them. There was quick career progression. Competitive pay meant that the job was commission only. There was no basic pay. They found that people worked harder and produced better results when this safety net wasn’t holding them back. There were also prizes if you sold lots of things. First, you had to prove that you had NSF – Natural Sales Flair.

They called Duncan the day after the interview to say that, after much consideration, he was one of the lucky few that had made it to the next stage. At the training and assessment day, they took him out on a job so that he could observe and learn from one of the senior Direct Marketers in action. He met Rory outside the building where he’d had his interview. Rory was wearing a Primark suit like him, and like the man on the interview panel. Rory had cufflinks with pearls on them. He was saving up for his wedding, and had won several prizes at work, including a flat screen TV. They walked from the building to the bus stop and waited, while Rory told him that the company had changed his life, and that he had started right at the bottom and worked his way up. Everybody did. It was all based on how good you were at Direct Marketing, nothing else mattered.

It started snowing. They got on the bus to Castlemilk shopping centre, and he asked Rory what happened if no one bought anything. Rory said that of course it wouldn’t make sense for the company to pay them unless they were making sales. Today Duncan would watch Rory selling meter keys. These keys were a fantastic deal, Rory said, a total bargain. Usually, a big electric company charged a flat daily rate on their meter key and would charge extra if you used more electricity than they deemed standard. So you were being charged for electricity even if you didn’t use any. This meter key was pay-as-you-go, but with no flat rate. You only paid for what you used, at a slightly higher rate than the big companies, sure, but only for what you used.

They got off at the shopping centre and sat down in the Greggs, where Rory gave him some paperwork to fill in. Rory treated him to a cup of tea and a sausage roll. Duncan ticked the relevant Equal Opportunities boxes, and wrote down his personal details. He wrote long answers to questions about why he was perfect for the role. As he wiped crumbs off the forms, they left little stains of grease on the paper.

Then Rory asked him to stand beside him at the entrance of the shopping centre and observe his technique. It was a Tuesday morning. No one came in or out. Rory straightened his tie. He held a clipboard in one arm, and a meter key in his other hand. After a while, Rory began swinging the meter key on its keyring, round and around his finger. They walked up and down in front of the entrance. The automatic entrance doors opened and closed as they walked, and flurries of snow drifted in.

“Direct Marketing” forms part of Saskia’s debut collection, Zero Hours, published by Broken Sleep Books; it was published previously in An Unofficial Apprentice Poetry Anthology (SPAM press 2020).

You can read an interview with Saskia here.

Saskia McCracken is a writer and editor based in Glasgow. She is on the editorial board of Osmosis Press. Her poetry and fiction pamphlets include Imperative Utopia (-algia press 2021), The King of Birds (Hickathrift Press), Cyanotypes (Dancing Girl Press), and Common Name (Osmosis Press). Twitter: @SaskiadeRM