On the Campaign couch: How do I get people to take me seriously?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do I get people to take me seriously?

Fifty years ago, I'd have advised you to smoke a pipe.

Dear Jeremy, I am fortunate enough to look much younger than I really am. But when I meet people, they always assume I’m a junior member of staff when I’m actually one of the most senior. How do I get people to take me seriously?

Fifty years ago, I’d have advised you to smoke a pipe. But I doubt if that would do the trick today, particularly if you’re a woman. And, anyway, you’d only be able to smoke it outside on the street in the rain.

Younger readers will wonder what I’m going on about, so let me explain. The more technical among you will be familiar with the concept of a "governor" – a device employed by engines to control and limit their speed. The pipe fulfilled exactly the same function with respect to meetings. Pipes controlled and limited the speed with which meetings were conducted. Since their demise, no modern equivalent has taken their place. They are much missed.

Meetings have become unseemly affairs, where rushed and ill-considered decisions are often taken – to be later regretted. Pipes slowed everything down, and thus encouraged brooding, pondering, discussion, rumination, meditation, contemplation, cogitation and ratiocination. With one or more pipe smokers present, no meeting ever leapt to an impulsive conclusion.

"Well, Ewan, what’s your take on all this? Should we double up or quit now?"

Ewan reaches into the side pocket of his tweed jacket, retrieves his pipe and peers into its bowl. From his waistcoat pocket, he retrieves a multipurpose implement not unlike a small Swiss Army knife. He unfolds the dedicated blade and slowly scrapes away at the residue of his most recent smoke. He taps the loosened fragments into an ashtray, peers again into the bowl, and scrapes and taps some more.

From a leather pouch, Ewan plucks a little too much tobacco, which he pulls and kneads and teases into the bowl of his pipe while carefully extricating the excess and returning it to the pouch. Unfolding a second arm from the implement, he tamps down the tobacco and reaches for his box of Swan Vestas.

Pipe at last in mouth, Ewan strikes a match and shields its flame from an imaginary draught. Cheeks hollowed, Ewan sucks. And sucks. And lights another match. And takes the pipe from his mouth and looks at it disapprovingly. Having shaken the match four times to extinguish its flame, Ewan lays his pipe gently down beside the ashtray and clears his throat.

"We’d do well to remember what happened in Chelmsford."

Ewan was always taken very seriously indeed.

In your case, even when denied the use of pipemanship or any modern equivalent, I suggest you say very little and err on the side of the opaque. "We’d do well to remember what happened in Chelmsford" won’t, of course, be appropriate in all circumstances, but you’ll be surprised how rarely it’s challenged.

Dear Jeremy, How can I improve my gravitas?

See above.

What happens to an agency when it loses a long-term client?

Occasionally, it can enjoy a short period of liberated celebration. Seriously bad clients do exist. Sometimes they’re bad because of one venal individual, scorned by his own company, whose main pleasure in life is bullying his agencies and coercing them into demeaning acts of questionable integrity. Sometimes they’re bad because they’re bitterly divided at the highest level, with each faction demanding exclusive agency attention. Such clients, if allowed to take hold, can infect an agency from top to bottom. It takes principled leadership to fire a profitable client – but the joy that follows is palpable.

More often, though, when an agency loses a long-term client, it goes into damage-limitation mode. An extremely long all-staff e-mail reveals that profitability has been disappointing for some time, that exciting new creative work has been blunted by the client’s insistence on sticking with his archaic research procedures and that their departure means that the agency is now free to engage with an even bigger client in the same sector – whose identity, unfortunately, cannot be disclosed for reason of confidentiality.

The entire agency’s reaction to such an e-mail is, of course: "We’ve blown it." Had the management all-staff e-mail consisted of the same three words, morale would have soared.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

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