What Bill Johnson Taught Me
By Sean Nitchmann
Bill Johnson? Yeah I know Bill Johnson. Huh… Bill Johnson… Bill Johnson is a rat bastard and a son of a bitch! I should know, I worked for him for ten years. Ten years of down in the trenches knuckle scraping PR and Advertising work.
Don’t get me wrong I have greatest respect for the man. He’s a friggin’ genius. Taught me everything there is to know about advertising. I went to work for him at Chemtron Chemical Corporation. Bill was the head of their Public Relations group, and did he have his work cut out for him. Chemtron was not what you’d exactly call a “concerned” company. In fact they only had one concern and that was profit, and if you had to spill a little sludge here and there to keep the profits up then let the toxins ooze where they will. And ooze they did. Hell, it’s a documented fact that there’s not a living animal within five miles of their main plan outside of Scranton, PA.
Well, it was Bill’s job as chief of public relations to clean up the messes so to speak. And Bill was a master. I remember my second week there, Chemtron was ready to close it’s doors because of another one of it’s blunders. Seems they had been selling an infant formula by the name of “Tiny Tike, the better baby nutritional supplement.” Why would anybody buy baby formula made by a chemical corporation you ask? Well they didn’t think they were. Tiny Tike was made by a company called Mother Knows Best Baby Products Incorporated which was actually a holding under the Chemtron conglomerate. Chemtron started the company in order to sell it the by-products from some of their pharmaceutical and food industry companies. I mean what better way to get rid of some of your excess goo than to turn it into powder and call it a “nutritional supplement.” Unfortunately one of the ingredients had the unfortunate effect of metabolizing into some form of mutated steroid that caused male infants to generate abmormal testicular engorgement. In other words, these babies would grow huge balls. Chemtron promptly shut down the Mother Knows Best operation but someone squeeled to the press and before you knew it, Chemtron was all over the news. There were protests day and night outside of Chemtrons main office and these mothers would bring out their big balled babies, strip them down naked and hold them up with their gigantic nut sacks waving in the wind for all the world to see. Talk about a PR nightmare! Chemtrons stock plummeted and the press demanded that Chemtron release a statement. On the day of the news conference, everyone was losing their shit running around ready to high tail it out of there. Hell, the executives locked themselves in the bathroom on the 42nd floor. Bill Johnson was the only one able to keep his head together. He walked out in front of those TV cameras and turned the whole thing upside down. He pulled out some voodoo science statistical data and had charts and graphs and some doctor types in white lab coats and by the time he was done he had everyone thinking that these babies had chunky nuts as result of their being truly great Americans. The next day we started a three month advertising campaign that portrayed Chemtron as the family friendly company that cares about America’s forests and fishing streams blah blah blah. We gave away free bumper stickers that said “Big Balled Baby on Board” Pretty soon everyone forgot about it and Chemtron’s back to making money like there’s no tomorrow. Literally.
Bill Johnson became a hero at Chemtron. He was the corporate darling. They gave him anything he wanted. Stock options, limo’s, mansions, parties. He had it all, he was at the top. Hell, he coined the phrase “Plastic Generation” He had every neo-hippy wearing Chemtron Corporation sponsored t-shirts on earth day. He made Chemtron the corporate backer of the “Summer of Sludge” rock festival headlined by none other than the Rolling Stones. “Give em what they want” that’s what he always said. He made Chemtron, the ugliest company on the planet, the most beautiful short term return of the NASDAQ top ten. Bill Johnson was fuckin’ brilliant.
Then one day he disappeared. We had a 3:00 meeting and he never showed up. No one knew what happened to him. Years later I got a postcard from him. He was at an ashram in the Colorado mountains rediscovering himself. He had just given up. That asshole couldn’t handle it, he sold out … or … bought in.
If you see Bill Johnson, tell him I said thanks. After he left, they made me director of advertising. The company’s doing great, we’ve expanded into personal hygiene products, our big sellers are acne medication and . Our lobbyists in Washington are making sure we have free reign to market every foul chemical concoction our R & D lab can dream up with a minimum of lip speak from the government. And me? I make sure every product sinks into the psyche of it’s targeted demographic with catchy jingles, subliminal advertising and directed marketing based on response groups, statistical analysis of purchasing patterns and emotional indicators. Advertising is truly a science. I can make you crave whatever it is they’re selling. I’m good at what I do, and I have Bill Johnson to thank for that. Give em what they want, that’s what he used to say. And I will. Bill Johnson taught me everything I know.
"What Bill Johnson Taught Me" debuted May 24, 2002, performed by Sean Nitchmann.
Performed at No Shame / Cedar Falls on November 15, 2002 by Derek Easton.