On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 10 May 2012 08:00AM

Q: While things in the industry seem to be picking up, times are still hard and client fees are still being cut back. What's the best way to motivate staff in these austere times?

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A: All the best people in advertising have two characteristics: they enjoy life and they're addicted to winning. I once suggested to a senior personnel person (as human resources people were once known) that we should invite all finalist job applicants to play Monopoly with each other while we silently watched. Did they take it intensely seriously? How did they balance caution and risk? Did they exhibit extreme joy when things went well? How did they recover from being sent to jail? When they'd just bought another hotel on Mayfair, in part with a mortgaged Liverpool Street Station, and on the very next throw an opponent missed it by one: did it seem at the time like the end of the world?

All these things tell you a lot about people. But in order to learn everything, you need to make a minor modification to the Monopoly rules. As a mirror of life, Monopoly suffers from one serious omission: it gives you no opportunity to spend your money irresponsibly. You either invest it or hoard it. So in my Monopoly Mark II, the bank holds not only the money but also the bottle. Drinks cost £200 each and you can buy one whenever you want. When you pass Go, you can choose to collect either £200 or another glass.

At once, as an observer, you can distinguish between those you don't want to hire and those you do: between those who never buy themselves a drink and those who do; between the implacably dour and those who seem to create their own enjoyment and their own luck. Actuaries would no doubt argue that resolutely abstemious Monopoly players should win more frequently than those who buy a drink or two. I'm pleased to report that, in Monopoly as in life, they don't.

So bear all this in mind when wondering how, in these austere times, to motivate your staff. Don't go near reality checks: there's far too much reality around already. Reminding them of the crisis in the eurozone, the wickedness of procurement executives and the fickleness of marketing directors will plunge them still more deeply into despondency. Invite them to devise things that they can compete for and win. Make sure the agency wins something, somehow. In a much earlier Jubilee year, my agency invented Jubilee Points and publicly awarded them to named individuals for specified achievements: not all of them of a serious nature. Jubilee Points were worth nothing but were greatly valued. They appealed to people who enjoyed life and were addicted to winning; in other words, to the best people.

Q: I'm thinking of getting out of advertising, but I've been an account man my whole life and am not sure there is anything else I can be really good at. Are my skills transferable and which direction should I go in?

A: There's a poignant paradox about being a brilliant leader. It may not be fashionable to admit it, but a brilliant leader, leading brilliantly, is almost certainly the most valuable individual around. Yet while brilliant planners can go freelance and plan, brilliant writers can go freelance and write, and brilliant website designers can go freelance and design websites, brilliant leaders can't go freelance and lead. Leadership is the only key skill whose delivery is wholly dependent on the presence of other people.

People leaving the armed forces have faced this problem for ever. What does a squadron leader without a squadron do all day? "Leadership qualities" are not all-purpose. Specific knowledge is also critical. To lead airmen well, you need to know enough about flying. You obviously know enough about advertising to have led advertising people successfully. What else do you know?

That's what you should be asking yourself. Some of the most successful second careers have blossomed when people such as yourself have disinterred an earlier passion or a serious outside interest and employed their organisational skills to earn a living from it. Are you fascinated by fabrics? Do you know the difference between an alpaca and a llama? Did your great grandmother once have a small cider orchard in Dorset? Did you inherit a collection of 19th-century daguerreotypes? Do you know more about the Morris Cowley Bullnose than anyone else on earth?

So don't apply for all those assistant bursar positions. Instead, identify your own, passionate, idiosyncratic enthusiasm - and mine it with all the skills you've developed over the years. You'll have a wonderful time.

"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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