On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’m shortly giving up my career in advertising and fancy a few non-executive roles to keep my eye in. How do I go about finding them and which do you think will be the most profitable? I wonder if it’s you who’s giving up advertising or if it’s advertising that’s giving up you? I suspect the latter.

You should have learned on your first day in the business – and remembered it every single day thereafter – that the most important advertising question you ever need to ask (and answer) is: "What’s in it for them?"

What’s in it for the consumer, the punter: the person or persons from whom you’re hoping to extract something in exchange? Because if you’re not offering anything of sufficient value to make that exchange seem of benefit to them, then no exchange will take place.

With that truism in mind, please now examine your letter to me.

You "fancy" a few non-exec roles – and the more profitable, the better. What are you offering in exchange? You haven’t even asked yourself the question. Until you’ve cobbled together a decent proposition, don’t even think of asking around.

Next: you clearly need to be reminded that the cushy world of non-exec directors is no longer quite as cushy as it was. Six board meetings a year; first class to Hong Kong and Los Angeles; dinner (with your lady wife) at LeBernardin; and a six-figure stipend – those were the days.

These days, the authorities have remembered that non-execs are legally responsible persons. These days, you’ll be summoned before a select committee accused of paying your chief executive too much, exposed in a Sunday newspaper for insider dealing and arrested on bail for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Perhaps you’d rather stay in advertising – or have you left it too late?

There are now so many awards, and so many agencies win them, that I wonder if awards are worth it any more?

Your money goes on being worth less and less, and has done for years. So why have you never said to yourself "This is ridiculous. It’s all now worthless. I’d rather have none"?

Winning lots and lots of awards may not single you out from the crowd any more. But being the only agency to win none certainly would.

Do you think it’s a good idea for a brand to apologise for something? Does anyone care, or are they just as well stopping what they did wrong and moving on?

The best time to work out whether to apologise for something is after you’ve left it too late. "It’ll soon blow over" is a fine sentiment and often true. But, by the time you’ve discovered that it hasn’t blown over, it’s even less likely to blow over because the fact that you failed to apologise has become an even bigger talking point than the something for which you didn’t apologise in the first place.

Buckingham Palace’s drawn-out reluctance to fly a flag at half mast provoked infinitely more animosity than the original decision; but it wouldn’t have done, of course, if the original decision had gone unremarked. I hope that’s cleared things up.

I’m thinking of writing a comedy script about advertising but, given that every other example (that I can think of) has been a complete flop, should I bother?

Comedies about department stores or the Home Guard or rag-and-bone men or bars or funeral parlours or Olympic deliverance offices or the civil service aren’t funny because they’re about department stores or the civil service. They’re funny because they’re written by people who have a rare talent for showing the natural funniness of people, particularly when they’re thrown together through the accident of work. The nature of that work barely matters.

If you think you’ll succeed justbecause you know something about advertising, like every one of your predecessors, you’ll fail. The makers of Mad Men didn’t have to know anything about advertising. The cast of Twenty Twelve in an advertising agency could be hilarious. If you’re good enough to write for them, you could pull it off. But if you’re good enough to write for them, why are you bothering to write a comedy about advertising?

"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

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