Chocolate is king

Years ago, I had a job where I managed web copy (blog writing) and social media for several clients. 

This is a strange task, this content marketing that you do for others. Many people who browse the web and stumble upon blog articles probably assume that they are written by the owner of the website. The garden center website, for example, has articles written by the professionals at the garden center.

Not really. 

The internet has lots of content written by non-experts with the expert's name slapped on it. I've written on many topics since then, topics I had no business writing about, since all I had to go on was research that led me to other blog posts probably written by other non-epxerts. My friend and I were recently on a hike in northern Minnesota with a group of folks from around the country, and as I was sharing the ins and outs of that reality, an older man from Chicago was flabbergasted. He couldn't believe so much ghostwriting and non-expert expert content was out there.

Anyway, that was my job. I'd meet with clients, talk to them to get a feel for tone, and then come up with blog post topics for them to approve. The idea is that a business would have a website, and then there would be all of this constantly refreshed and new content on the site to provide helpful information for customers as well as bring search engines to the page. 

I can see the value in some of that, particularly for businesses where people actually ask them the same kinds of questions over and over and it would be helpful to simply point them to an article with the information. But there are some businesses no one cares to have information on.

And of course, having a non-expert not only write your content but also find appropriate content to share on their social media pages makes for several ick factors. When you hire it out, there’s a lot of hoops to leap through. You have to find a variety of articles, then you have to gather them and run them by the client. They have to OK them. You then have to write a little ditty to go along with the shared content. The time lag between finding and actually sharing prevents any really relevant or timely content from being shared. That shared content is basically news stories or other industry blog posts. This is all, of course, to get people to engage (share, read, comment, name their children after) with the content on social media and maybe get some new customers at their brick and mortar.

Problem is, most people don’t really care about a car parts seller, for example, sharing posts about the latest news in car parts. People shop at a car parts store when they need car parts and want good service and price. 

So then, in order to convince clients that managing their social media is a win and still worth paying for, we have to get them to really really really super duper engage, and grasp at any proof of engagement that we can.

Likes! Shares! Comments! Hits! Anything that shows a human laid eyeballs on the content.

That’s where we get to contests, which is where this is all headed. But first, let me tell you about The Client.

There was one particular client I found rather difficult to work with, and because of their nature, I found it almost impossible to do a good job. They’d get upset over the ads that might appear on a news article I’d shared on their Facebook profile, completely unaware of how remarketing and ads work and that their own internet browsing may have been responsible for the ad they saw. They refused to publicize their Facebook page to their customers, as if it would be embarrassingly low brow to ask customers to like their page. It was an effort in trying to run a marathon in record time while tiptoeing constantly, because they seemed to think that the moment they paid to have the work done, the results would magically roll in without any action of their own.

It was kind of like taking your car to the mechanic to get fixed and wondering why he also didn't drive you to Dallas.

To my great joy, the decision was made at the place I worked that we would no longer offer social media management and content creation services. We began the process of wrapping up the final months of client work by training them all how to do their own social media. Most were pretty good about it.

Except one.

During one of these sessions, The Client insisted on running a contest.

Social media contests are a joke if you don’t have a massively huge fan base, and depending on the network, some contests aren’t actually allowed. A contest, when you have few social media fans, actually accentuates that lack of fans. You can publish to an empty room for all eternity, but once you have a contest that demands response, you really hear the crickets.

This wasn’t the first contest, mind you, so I dropped my head and realized that even though we’d be done with all of this soon, it wasn’t going to end without some pain. I recommended skipping the contest and concentrating on simply learning how to take over the social media publishing.


They wanted a contest. They were a difficult client for many reasons, and it was all on display in this final request.

The prize they wanted to give away was a Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Blizzard cake. I set the contest up on their blog, framed it as something appropriate, something about being thankful at Thanksgiving so it seemed less crass, published it to the social media outlets, and awaited silent humiliation.

No one commented on the blog post to enter the contest.

"We’re not getting any response," the client informed me. "Do something."

In my mind, it was going according to how I had envisioned it.

Client: Put a billboard up on Mars.

Me: I don't think you'll get much response.

Client: Do it anyway. We're paying you to do what we tell you to do.

Me: (Puts billboard up on Mars)

Client: We aren't getting any response.

Me: (Wants to move to Mars to get away from the client) Well, it's on Mars, so...

This is the difference between someone who hires experts because they trust their expertise and value their opinion and it's part of why they hired them, versus someone who hires people to push the button they tell them to even if the expert is saying "I wouldn't push that button."

I had made a point of never using my personal connections to further the engagement of client social media because I actually like my friends and family. But the pressure on this was overwhelming and I just wanted them to go away. So I told a few friends and family members to go enter the contest just to get the ball rolling. I figured others would still participate.

A friend entered.

No one else did.

"No one is entering our contest," the client reminded me.

Yes, because there is no such thing as Martians.

"It would help if I could share this on your social networks and if you’d let your customers know about it," I said.

They would not.

I guess it was too crass to tell your CURRENT CLIENTS that they could win a free ice cream cake by participating in a fairly benign contest on your website's blog by sharing what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving. God forbid you give your clients a fun chance to win a treat and excitedly share it on social media letting people know you were a great company.

I prodded family and friends again, asking them to enter genuinely if they were interested, and spread the word.

My sister, bless her, answered my call for help. She entered the contest. She’s from several hundred miles away, but the contest rules didn’t forbid that. Dairy Queens are found pretty much everywhere in the region, after all, and there was one in her town.

Ultimately, after time passed, the only two people to enter the contest were my friend and my sister. My sister won. Not my friend who lives in town, but my sister from a few hundred miles away.

My sister was working as a vet tech at the time, and the wife of the client called to congratulate her on winning the cake. It's unfortunate that they called while she was working cattle in a chute, however, because my sister hung up on her. It was a bad time, what with the beasts slamming her about, and all of the racket. I can only imagine what the prim and proper client thought of that brief chaotic phone call. If they wouldn't share a contest with their clients because it was crass, I wonder what they thought of the mooing and swearing.

"So you hung up," I asked my sister when she called me a bit later during a brief reprieve.

"It was noisy," she said. "And I wasn’t sure if it was a scam call." 

"It’s not a scam," I told her. "Just be polite and accept the gift certificate."

When she was done with the cattle, she called the wife of the client back and explained that she was castrating bulls and that’s why she hung up the phone.

Ye gads. Rocky Mountain oysters, anyone?

The client’s wife had her husband call my sister back. He congratulated her on being the winner, but asked her about her area code. How would she claim the prize, which was for a specific Dairy Queen in Bismarck?

As Burt Gummer, from the Tremors movies would often say and I often quote, why didn’t someone tell me that critical, need-to-know information? At no time, as I repeatedly discussed the contest with the fussy client, did anyone restrict entry to the local area only, nor did anyone say it would be a specific Dairy Queen. I had even asked and put basic FAQ on the blog post which included the following two items, approved by the client:

Q: Do I have to be a current client of ______________?
A: Not at all. Everyone is welcome to enter the contest.

Q: I'm not from the Bismarck-Mandan area. Can I still enter?
A: Yes, you don't have to be from Bismarck or Mandan to enter this contest.

I was a bit incredulous at this client, who had approved those questions and answers, now saying "well, the gift certificate is for a specific Dairy Queen here in town." Seems rather geographic-specific to me.

My sister told the client to just give the prize to someone else, but he insisted she was the winner. Then, to be helpful, she brilliantly mentioned that she had a sister who lived in Bismarck.

My sister hates me with her love.

They began looking through their records, assuming I was a client of theirs, because Janet had said something about me knowing them. They couldn’t find me of course, because I wasn’t their client: they were ours.

"We don’t find her in our records," he told her.

"Well, she works for some website design company or something there in town," my sister cheerfully offered.

The phone got quiet. "Oh. I see."

My sister later told me she could hear the tone of his voice change. But she continued on and firmly established that I was her sister and they could just give the gift certificate to me. It looked like I had done a fantastic job of gaming the system to get a dessert. All I really wanted was for the client to be doing their own social media and to never have to work with them again.

The client called the office where I was working, but someone was on the line and so he had to leave a voicemail. I wasn’t aware all of this was happening, mind you, but at some point my bosses listened to the voicemail and went into the conference room and started laughing. All of us out in the open work area were wondering what was up. We could see they seemed to be listening and re-listening to a voicemail.

The door to the conference room finally opened.

"Julie, can you come in here?"

I went in.

"There’s a voicemail we’d like you to hear."

He started the message, and my heart sank.

I heard the guy, this super fussy client, explain that he just got done talking to my sister, the "winner" of their prize of the contest I helped them set up, and that they would get her gift certificate to me, and that she had a message she wanted him to tell me.


"She wanted us to tell you that Chocolate Is King," he said oddly, as if his voice was being forced through a strainer.

My sister later told me that, before she hung up with the client after finding out she’d won, she’d told him she wanted a chocolate cake. The client firmly informed her that "you don’t get to choose what kind; we already picked the pumpkin" to which she responded "oh, that’s too bad" and then asked him to relay a message to me regarding the kingship of chocolate.

Point of interest: the gift certificate can be used for whatever cake you want, no matter what the client wrote on it. Dairy Queen will give you whatever flavor cake you want. So this kind of shows you a bit about the nature of the client. "You won, but I still have control over the result." Whatever.

Anyway, after the message was over, I covered my face with my hand. I was mortified. I eventually looked at my bosses and began apologizing repeatedly. "No one else was entering the contest so I had to get family and friends to do it!" I explained. "I couldn’t publicize it, they wouldn’t tell their customers, and I really have no idea how I was supposed to make the contest a success with those restrictions! People wouldn't just magically find it!"

They didn't really hear me, because they were so busy laughing. They said they were never going to delete that voicemail because it was hilarious to hear that guy say "chocolate is king" in the tone of voice he used.

The next day was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. It was the day I have to drive home, a very busy and hectic day of wrapping a lot of work up before the holiday so I could leave early and get started on the long drive. The client walked in with the gift certificate amidst all of the hustle. 

The office kind of paused, though everyone made a good appearance of casually working, as if this debacle wasn't known to all. One of my bosses followed him back to my desk area, standing just behind him with a weird grin on his face, and I stood up to take the certificate. 

The client, being who he was, held onto it with a death-grip. He wouldn't let me take it until he finished talking and, frankly, established some authority and control since my sister and her bull-castrating-side-show had made a dent in that.

"You can take a picture of your sister with the cake," he said. "We’ll put yellow smiley faces over the faces of the people in the photo so we don’t have to deal with permission to publish the photo on our Facebook wall."

I looked at him. Photo? Since when was that part of the contest? It wasn’t. My sister, the winner, had directed them to give me the prize, free and clear. But they were bizarrely paranoid, and I figured they thought I had been planning to take advantage of them and keeping the cake for myself. Because I can't just go buy a bloody cake on my own dime, I have to create elaborate conspiracies to gain access to a Dairy Queen cake, I guess.

"OK," I said quietly. I felt like a moron. The client looked like a triumphant clown as he left with a smirk.

The boss who had followed the client back to my desk and had witnessed the whole thing had a funny look on his face. "That was weird. I guess Awkward Is King."

Here’s the problem: I had a 4.5-hour drive. No way was a frozen cake going to make that trip. It had to be redeemed at the Bismarck Dairy Queen. He wanted a photo as proof.

"What am I going to do?!" I asked my fellow co-workers, who had gathered for an impromptu staff meeting at that point. 

We all brainstormed ideas, including getting a cake, taking a photo, photoshopping that onto a photo of the family taken during Thanksgiving while keeping the cake at work. Or, perhaps we could simply get a cake box at Dairy Queen and holding the empty box for the photo (which wouldn’t have worked, I found out, because they don’t use boxes but use clear containers instead). We went through all kinds of ideas. 

I didn’t have time to run around, get a frozen cake, get it back to the office or my apartment, take a photo, and still get on the road and home before it got too dark. I was so angry and annoyed about the situation. I should have just called them up and told them to keep their certificate.

These are the kind of clients you fire. You do not want these clients.

In the end, I had other family members get an ice cream cake in Grand Forks. It made that shorter drive in sort of decent slightly-melted condition. We took the photo. The next week, I took the original prize-winning gift certificate and got a CHOCOLATE frozen cake and we ate it at the office.

"I think it’s very appropriate," one of my bosses said as we ate it, "that we’re eating the free cake of the client we fired as we wind down the year."

But let’s talk about that photo.

I provided them with a nice family photo (without me, because that would have been awkward), and said we gave them permission to use it without smiley faces (because that would also have been super awkward).

They insisted on the smiley faces.

Oddly, I feel that the photo fits the situation on so many levels, particularly if you knew who the client was, the name of their business, what's going on in this photo, and the complete crap show this ended up being.


Plaster fake smiley faces on everyone. Because it's only through that level of grimacing fakery that I made it through working with that client.


  1. I have to be honest. Reading this did cause a bit of laughter!


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