On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 November 2010 12:00AM

Q: Jeremy, I have a mid-life crisis that I'm hoping you can steer me through.

I'm a pretty successful account director in a mid-sized, well-regarded London agency. I pretty much like my life - hell, I even still love my wife - but she (my wife) is becoming increasingly adamant that she doesn't want to raise our two young children in London. My dilemma is this. I've been offered a job by an agency in a provincial city. It has solid, if unsexy, clients, good financials and a nice bunch of people. My family could live in a lovely house in the country and we may even be able to have a horse (my wife's dream). But if I take it, would I be signing a professional suicide note? I'm too young for that.

A: Your key assumption here is fairly scary and it's worth examining. I don't think you mean that, by leaving London advertising, you'd become less well-informed, less professional, a less valued advisor. I think you mean that, by leaving London advertising, you'd disqualify yourself from consideration for all future high-profile opportunities. Have I got that right?

You wouldn't, of course, disqualify yourself from advancement within your new agency or within your new region. But what you'd probably miss out on would be the now traditional account management career ladder: which perversely elevates its payload further and further away from the business that attracted them in the first place. As an account director, you've still got every opportunity to affect the quality of the advertising your clients buy. There's a school of thought, to which I subscribe, that says that the best account directors can have as beneficial an effect on creative work as the best creative directors. They may not get the gongs and the glory but it's a rare and wonderful talent to possess; it's why (I hope) you wanted to join an agency. The job satisfaction can be colossal.

But from here on in, every rung up the executive ladder makes you more and more distant from what you've spent your last eight years becoming good at. As MD, then CEO, then Executive Vice-President EMEA, then as Global Multi-Disciplinary All-Channel All-Platform Client Service Integrator, absolutely nothing you say or do can have any direct effect on the quality or effectiveness of a single ad anywhere in the world.

So there you are, vertiginously successful, but hating the world's airports almost as venomously as your wife and children continue to hate London.

There are very good advertising agencies outside London just as there are very good advertising agencies outside New York. There are many agencies outside New York that New York agencies envy and fear.

If you slink out of London reluctantly, having surrendered all pride and professional ambition, you'll look at that horse in your lovely paddock and slowly shrivel to death with resentment.

Go with great things in mind and you'll end up loving them all: horse, wife, children - and not least advertising.

Q: I've got a client who is desperate for a new job, and a prospective new employer - who is an old friend - has asked me for a reference on him. The thing is, if he leaves his current job, the chances are we'll lose that account. What should I do?

A: He's desperate for a new job so he'll be going soon anyway. If you write him one of those subtly subversive references - the ones that say nothing but nice while leaving the reader in no doubt that the subject is a moral bankrupt - he's bound to find out. So in one move, you'll lose friend, client and self-respect.

Instead, write an honest one. If he gets the job, he'll say good things about you to his successor; and if he doesn't, you'll be OK for long enough to grease up to his No.2.

Q: A sales director writes: over the past couple of years, I've successfully managed to manipulate my bonus by painting a particularly gloomy picture of the economy so they set bonus levels really low, which we always manage to beat. However, I think they have wised up to this - how do I maintain my current lifestyle?

A: You've crossed the line already so try a little light expense-fiddling.

Q: Dear Jeremy, the advertising landscape, as we know, is continually changing. Previously, we saw more ad agencies doing pure digital activity but now more digital and direct marketing agencies are starting to do TV ads. When will the blurred lines between agencies start to become clear?

A: As soon as they disappear completely.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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