Is there a correlation between the volume of a person’s utterances, whether verbally or in writing, and their business or social success?
If there is, it’s an inverse one. Once upon a time, when people smoked, and some people even smoked pipes, pipe-smokers earned a formidable reputation for wisdom.
They would sit in meetings, filling their pipes, lighting their pipes, tapping their pipes, tamping down the tobacco, blowing down the stem, scraping out the bowl and saying absolutely nothing.
Towards the end, the chairman would say: "Anything to add, Hamish?" And, after a pause and a final tap, Hamish would say: "We shouldn’t forget about Fridays." And everybody else would look suitably abashed because, of course, they all had.
I knew a colleague who was not well-favoured. Of indeterminate height and appearance, he suffered from an unfortunate complexion. He was also known to be spectacularly successful with women.
Keeping the envy from my voice, I once asked a mutual friend if he knew how Bill did it. "He listens them into bed," my friend replied.
I’m the marketing director on an impressive portfolio of national brands. I know I could make them even more famous and successful, but I’m constantly frustrated by my chief executive. His background is an unusual mixture of sales and finance, and he prides himself on being ‘old school’. He won’t even consider anything that doesn’t have a single number attached to it and openly says that a lot of talk about brands is just poncy bullshit. I’m a great believer in ‘emotional’ advertising and think I’ve got the agencies to deliver it. But, by the time campaign ideas have survived the research procedures that my CEO insists on, most of them have been stripped of their magic. What makes my life even more frustrating is that, despite my CEO, most of my brands seem to be doing pretty well.
First, a tip. Stop talking about "my brands". They’re not your brands. They belong to the company that your irksome CEO is paid to run. If he thinks you see the company’s brands as belonging to your personal marketing fiefdom, where only sensitive, cultured minds such as your own are welcome, he’s going to become more and more doctrinaire.
Now, a bit of amateur psychology. As ambitious executives doggedly scale the corporate ladder, they become less and less willing to admit to doubt. To admit to doubt seems like an admission of weakness – and top chaps don’t like being thought weak. Top chaps like to see themselves as hard and decisive – as, indeed, for most of the time, they have to be.
So, when confronted with a proposal that’s not immediately black or white, a proposal whose evaluation demands instinct, judgment, risk and faith – a £15 million television campaign that features a Ruritanian poltergeist, for example – your typical top chap is going to feel extremely uncomfortable.
He knows at the back of his mind that there’s almost certainly something called creativity and that a brand is more than a mere product; but he also knows that if he allows himself to become engaged in a conversation about all these intangible and often flaky matters, he’ll flounder. He’ll lose his confidence and his treasured reputation for decisiveness. So he says: "Well, Nigel, that one’s a bunch of arty-farty crap, for a start. What else have you got?"
And then he waits. And if Nigel accepts his verdict without protest, your typical top chap will assume that he was right to kill the poltergeist stone dead and move smartly on. Because what he was waiting for, but didn’t get, was a reasoned, thoughtful, informed rationale that would have helped him understand why this proposal just might be a winner.
A more confident top chap might have said: "I’m a little at sea on this one, Nigel. Can you talk me through it a bit more?" But he didn’t; and neither will your CEO.
Secretly, your CEO thinks you may just be in possession of a precious talent. But unless you bolster that thought with a regular diet of IPA case studies and a dash of econometrics, he’s not going to take you on trust.
You can help him help you.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE