On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

As a client, is there a decent way to fire a very senior member of your agency team? I’ve heard so many stories about it being handled very badly.

I’d like to know why you want this very senior member of your agency team off your business. There are good reasons and disreputable reasons. Disreputable reasons include scapegoating. (Or scopegating, as I once heard a disgruntled junior describe it.) This comes into the "deputy heads must roll" category.

Your chief executive was greatly displeased to find one of your corporate advertisements adjacent to an editorial extolling your CEO’s high-profile rival. Someone had to go. It obviously couldn’t be you, so it had to be the agency. It couldn’t be the top person because your CEO rated him, but it had to be someone senior enough to be seen to be significant. So: "Sorry, Graeme, but I’m sure you understand…"

Under these circumstances, there is no limit to the amount of thought and consideration you should devote to Graeme’s self-esteem and job security. Unless you can see him safely in charge of that zingy new Virtual Content Pod that his agency is launching, with two PAs and a Chiltern Firehouse table, your conscience should trouble you until the end of time.

But suppose that Graeme had to go not as a cover for someone else but because he wasn’t interesting. He was conscientious, likeable, reliable and transparently straight. His attention to detail was immaculate and he sent your wife flowers on her birthday. On the agency’s annual evaluation form, you scored him straight eights. He was just irredeemably dull.

So would you go to the agency’s head honcho and say "I want Graeme off my business"? And the head honcho says: "But I thought everything was going extremely well?" And you say: "You’re right. It is. But I expect my agencies not only to produce good advertising, within budget and on time. I also expect them to bring light, colour and malicious gossip into the otherwise drab lives of marketing men such as myself.

And Graeme is irredeemably dull." Would you do that? No, I don’t think you would. Because, if you did that, you’d reveal yourself to be exactly what you are – and that would be extremely bad for your self-image.

So your challenge is to find a way of easing the luckless Graeme off your account in a way that preserves his self-respect, secures his future and earns you his gratitude. (You may need the help of an imaginative agency person.) And if Graeme’s replacement is an unstoppably entertaining individual with the reliability of a dragonfly and questionable personal habits, then don’t blame the agency. Except I bet you will.

What’s the best, most dramatic exit by a disgruntled member of staff that you’ve ever heard of? I only ask as I’m leaving my agency quite soon and want to go out with a bang.

You can probably improve on this but it’s the best I can do. An art director with expensive tastes, a reasonable book and good media contacts finally exhausted our entertaining budget and our forbearance. Concerned as always to see that his self-confidence wasn’t terminally shattered (see answer immediately above), we protected his departure from ignominy with a leaving party, a few sensitive words of appreciation and a small gift. A week later, the diary column of a major national newspaper ran the headline: "Congratulations, Congratulations, Congratulations! You’re Fired!"

Dear Jeremy, Do agencies still need executive creative directors? They seem to be going out of fashion.

The absence of an ECD is at least as telling as the presence. It tells creative people that they’re not valued enough to merit representation at the highest level and tells clients that their agency’s only in it for the money.

Any agency management happy to be so perceived should certainly dispense with an ECD. They’re extremely expensive and have been known to be troublesome.

How long should you stay at an agency before thinking about moving on?

You should think about leaving an agency not less than six months before it thinks about leaving 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 campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

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