Things That Suck #794: Non-essential people at meetings. Or “Blinkers.”

You know all those people who sit in meetings but contribute nothing? My friend John Trahar has a great term to describe them. He calls ’em “Blinkers.”

Because that’s all these people do — blink.

The junior account executive? She’s busy taking notes. The creatives, they’re busy showin’ work. The planner, busy offering insights. And then there’s that … that guy. Just sitting there.


Damn, I want that job. I wonder how the interview for his job went? How did he pitch himself?

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AGENCY RECRUITER: Well, Jim, what do you think you can contribute to our agency?

BLINKER: Good question, Bill, and the answer is “Nothing.” Not a single thing actually. See, what I do is … I blink. That’s ALL I do. I go to meetings, I sit off to the side, and I blink. Well, that and take up space in the meeting room. I think you could describe my contribution to any meeting as providing “one less place to sit.” I am simply there … existing. And while at first glance this “existing” I do may seem very Zen, I assure you I am not on a higher plane of any kind whatsoever. I’m just there in the meeting, filling out a suit, and providing a neck for a tie to go around. You may think what I’m trying to say is “I’m a good listener,” but to be honest, most of the time my mind is just drifting –  I’m thinkin’ about baseball, or lunch, those M&Ms over there, it all depends really. See, I’ve been coasting on my invisibility for years. I sat in the back of every college class and even today, in a world full of important issues, I manage to be neither for nor against anything. I’m one of those people who turns up on every survey with a “DON’T KNOW” – even to questions like, “Isn’t war bad?” Have you heard the phrase “fly on the wall”? Well, think of me as a fly on one of your chairs. A big fat fly, just sitting in one of your meetings, taking it all in but adding nothing. From the look on your face, I see that perhaps the fly imagery is a bit distasteful so instead think of me as an inert substance like, say, ashes from a crematorium. No, no, another bad example.  Think of me as a purely inert substance, like the glycerin they use as a base in shampoo formulas. I’m a “bulking agent.” I add bulk to your agency overhead. I take up space in meeting rooms. But in return, I provide no opinion, no flavor, no extra ingredients, no added value of any kind whatsoever.

So, when can I start?


  1. These people make my blood boil. Occasionally, I out them. “Blinker, what do you think of what Thinker just said?” Try it. It temporarily deactivates their cloak of invisibility.

    • Love the “cloak of invisibility” metaphor.

    • A Twitter friend from Australia says: @heywhipple In Australia, we call Blinkers Argon; colourless, odourless gas.

  2. Are you sure that silence isn’t preferable to “I must say something” comments that are generally pointless criticisms solely formulated to substantiate their existence and right be in the room.

    Personally I’d rather have someone sitting silent than get commentary that’s either a pointless repetition of something that’s already been said or so poorly formulated that it makes Miss South Carolina looks like a member of Mensa in comparison.

    In my personal experience, such Blinkers often derive most of their out-of-the meeting power from gatekeeper roles and are quite likely to be the person deputized to decide who to call to the meeting. Their presence in the room is the equivalent to a small, but necessary political, payoff–a minor concession to an imperfect world.

    • Agreed. I’d rather have the Miss South Carolina’s be quiet rather than say anything. Then again, considering the entertainment factor of when they DO speak, maybe we NEED them in there. Providing us with material.

  3. Actually, there is a third option to the repetition and the poorly formulate comment. There is the deeply personal anecdote the has nothing to do with the situation and discloses way too much information. The response combines the worst attributes of Betty White’s Golden Girls character with Courtney Love’s performance at Pamela Anderson’s Celebrity Roast. Witnessing it is embarrassing for all involved.

  4. Could not agree more. From my 14 years of experience in N. Illinois area advertising (in other words, an economic wasteland)- most ad firms keep a Blinker (aka, a Sr. Account Executive) or two who are present in the office about 25-30 hrs/week. To in turn, layoff a Professional Creative (aka a Designer, programmer, copywriter) who works 60hrs/week with no OT pay and makes much less than a Blinker.

    Usually ‘Blinkers’ are good looking people that make you think they can bring in more sales. Truth be told, they just like lunch meetings and making flirtatious allusions to possible sexual favors over a project contract that’s in limbo.

  5. Those in advertising – You Are Not Alone! Blinkers exist in the legal profession & in health care administration. Is it the “cloak of invisibility” that protects the Blinker from a Darwinian Natural Selection process?


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