So I ended yesterday with the official confirmation that my company has been cheated out of a significant amount of money by a client who masquerades as a top of the line advertising agency here in the UAE.
The incident dates back nearly 4 months when we agreed to take on a branding job for a well known agency and were required to produce and install some high quality graphics for a clothing brand named rather quaintly after a fruit.
Although we had been doing fairly well since my little production house venture started in Jan 2006, it had always been difficult breaking through established Ad agencies and so, I was on rather a high when we landed this job. We were given 15 days at a highly negotiated price to complete our work in time for a major event the clothing brand was launching. We set to and were delayed at the very start of the job due to incomplete artworks, incorrect measurements and lack of installation equipment which were all our receivables from the agency in question.
However, with some careful planning and a lot of extra effort and hours (I literally lived out of my car at the site during the fag end of the project), we managed to get the work done with a brief delay of just 3 days ... far from unusual in this industry. The result was a sultry looking Penelope Cruz (the face of the brand) staring out in various poses from a row of tall buildings overlooking an important thoroughfare in Dubai netting massive exposure for the client. A rather difficult job in other words, well executed and with the minimum of delays.
So imagine my shock when after using our product for the two months mentioned in their original contract, the agency suddenly did a volte face on us and simply refused to pay us citing the 3 day delay as the reason. When I realised that they had carefully avoided signing any delivery orders or invoices during this period (signatory supposedly out of town, accountant out of office due to illness etc), I knew I had been well, truly and expensively suckered.
Well, all was not lost I felt. Surely, wasn't all we needed really, was a face-to-face to set things right? Putting myself in a conciliatory frame of mind, I put together a comprehensive brief of all the documentation I had made sure to collect before starting the work and with back up from the directors of my parent organization, made a surprise visit to the agency to talk to their head. He had of course "just returned" from his business trip and received us very graciously and with no dearth of courtesy. Asking us to return for a proper meeting as he was backed up with prior appointments, he saw us out with every hope that the matter would be amicably resolved and a fair review done. More fool I!
In effect, I gave them enough time and ample notice to fabricate a series of non-events that were really a bunch of nonsense conveyed in jargon. Everyday interactions between production teams that are the norm were magnified to make us look positively incompetent and the second meeting with the agency had me face to face with a man who bore zero resemblance to the young, congenial entrepreneur with whom I had been interacting for all those months.
By this time, I was feeling positively disheartened and it didn't help that every time I went down that same thoroughfare, the result of our hard work kept staring me in the face. In the course of my career, I had dealt with many situations, had seen the good, bad and ugly of all things professional and yet, this had happened to me. My own naivete in the face of some slick manoeuvring from the other party made me feel hopelessly wronged. I had examined every aspect of our professional behaviour in the completion of this job and I couldn't find a single thing that would warrant this outcome.
And then it came to me. I was indeed being naive. Who knew better than I that cheats abound everywhere? I had seen it often - it was just that it was me at the receiving end this time. This was really not much different from money changing hands for so many reasons - to have projects awarded to you, to get your purchase orders released ... the list was endless. Corruption in other words was open to interpretation. It is not done to acknowledge it of course but we all at some level look up to people who can "get their work done" and there had been occasions when I hadn't flinched either.
Kind of sad that I could so quickly become so philosophical about this.
The next step in the phase of this little drama was of course legal. After notices duly filed and games dirtily played, we were offered something unacceptable - 20% of the invoiced amount in lieu of full settlement. That was last evening.
This morning, I'm done being understanding, conciliatory, philosophical and oh yes, corrupt. To accept defeat knowingly or simply to avoid confrontation in a just cause is the same as perpetrating a crime. At least in my book it is. The statement might be strong but I think the sentiment is quite valid. Sometimes it takes a rude shock to realise just how accepting we are of so many things that we have no business allowing.
Now we are all set to fight it out in a court of law. Our chances are slim. As I have seen, all it takes is for a local man to speak the native language, switch on the charm and get away with just about anything. I see some more heartache and a lot more money kissing us goodbye in my immediate future.
But I'm going ahead because quite simply, it will be the right thing to do - probably not smart, but right. And trust me, being right these days calls for a helluva lot of justification.