On The Campaign Couch...with JB

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 27 October 2011 08:00AM

Q: Dear Jeremy, I've been offered a more senior job at a much smaller and less prestigious agency. Is it better to have the autonomy or to work with some of the people considered the best in the business? Thanks.

On The Campaign Couch...with JB

A: There's often one word in a letter that, entirely inadvertently, reveals a great deal more about the writer than the writer intended. In your case, the word is autonomy.

You yearn for autonomy. You want to dispense with all those feeble, weedy, discursive, fence-sitting, wishy-washy, LibDem discussions that fail to reach any form of immediately actionable conclusion. You believe that a bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday.

You often remind your colleagues that Mussolini made the trains run on time. You worshipped Steve Jobs. You want absolute personal power. You want autonomy.

If that's the case, you should certainly accept that offer from the smaller, less prestigious agency. You'll enjoy yourself a lot. And your autonomous style will ensure that the agency continues to be smaller and less prestigious, thus allowing you to go on being autonomous.

Only a person addicted to autonomy would even contemplate giving up the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the business. That should be everybody's aim. And the best people in the business aren't going to hang around long when they're given instructions by a fascist.

So by taking this job, you'll be doing everyone a favour: both yourself and those excellent colleagues you leave behind.

Or nearly everyone. I'm not so sure about that smaller, less prestigious agency.

Q: I'm a chief executive of an ad agency. We've just launched a campaign that's turned out to be hugely popular. The problem is, the team behind the ad has just left for another agency. After making such a noise about how the work is the start of our creative renaissance, how the hell do I spin this to make it look like we got rid of them?

A: You've already made one big mistake and you're about to make another.

When you excitedly tell the world that a single new campaign marks the start of your creative renaissance, what do your other clients conclude? That all the work you've sold them over the past ten years has been rubbish. They may wish to talk this over with you.

You've also alienated your entire creative department, since you've made it publicly known that the only people who've done good work are now with a competitor.

Finally, if this campaign was just the first step in your creative resurgence, why hasn't there yet been a second? You set up an expectation that hasn't been met. This brilliant new campaign will be seen for what it clearly is: a flash in the pan.

And now you're hoping to convince the world that you fired the people responsible for your first and only piece of outstanding creative work. If you succeed, the world will think you're clinically insane; and if you fail, they'll think you're a slimy toad. Take your choice.

But what your question really reveals is that you've still not grasped the single most essential truth about good agencies. Individuals are, of course, important; but even more important is the nature of the agency within which those individuals live and work. Give it a grand name, if you like. Call it ethos or culture. Charles Handy calls it "the way we do things round here".

In the right environment, beta-plus people become starred alphas. In the wrong environment, starred alphas deliver beta-minus work. Nothing else explains the serial disappointments felt by those agencies that rely entirely on bribing people to join them and expend no thought thereafter on personal and professional development. Nothing else explains how a good agency can go on being a good agency, decade after decade, even after there's been a 100 per cent staff change.

When talented people choose to leave a good agency, the good agency wishes them luck, gives them an affectionate party - and books them for lunch in eight months' time. The bad agency plots how to undermine their reputation.

What kind of agency are you, I wonder?

Q: A marketing director writes: I'm about to travel to Buenos Aires on an important shoot for my brand's big commercial. I find my friend, let's call him "Adam", is invaluable on such occasions. Do you think it's permissible to charge his travel costs to the company given his vital, though intangible, contributions to my work?

A: No.

"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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