CLOSE-UP: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00PM
Q: At a board meeting I rashly suggested I would resign as chairman
if we weren't Campaign's Agency of the Year within three years. That
deadline has just come and gone and we're not. We've never even been
close. My fellow directors, a vengeful and unforgiving bunch, keep
reminding me of my pledge. Should I try convincing them I didn't really
mean it, or must I fall on my sword?
I wonder if your vengeful colleagues read this column? If so, they will
know with absolute certainty that, although unsigned, this letter comes
from you: it is beyond credibility that the United Kingdom could contain
two agency chairmen not only addle-pated enough to make such a pledge
but base enough to try and wriggle out of it.
My answer will therefore be of at least as much interest to them as to
So let's get this out into the open. Your colleagues do not want to get
rid of you because you have failed to honour a pledge. Although they are
too cowardly to say so, they want to get rid of you because they find
you base and addle-pated.
I conclude, therefore, that yours is an agency chaired by a person of
questionable honour and intelligence surrounded by disloyal subordinates
too spineless to stage the management revolution they must all know is
necessary. Can you really have believed you were in the running for
Agency of the Year?
As soon as you have finished reading this, call a board meeting.
Confront your colleagues with my analysis. The first of your colleagues
to endorse it with enthusiasm should be made chief executive with
immediate effect. Fire the existing one along with any other broody
buggers. Take it from there.
The spirit of leadership is heady stuff: you may find it suits you. You
may soon find yourself chairing an agency of openness and integrity. You
might even, in three years' time or so, find yourself in the running for
Agency of the Year. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Q: My client and I disgraced ourselves terribly at the agency Christmas
party. Both horribly drunk, we locked ourselves in my office where we
were very passionate and unprofessional. We're both married and I hate
myself for what I did. I suspect she does too. Can we ever resume a
proper business relationship?
As you clearly recognise, this self-induced predicament will demand a
considerable injection of imagination and luck if you are both to emerge
from it unscathed. (Whether or not you deserve to emerge from it
unscathed is not for me to say: we deal here with practical rather than
The following advice is based on the belief that you and your client,
while deeply regretting your moment of adolescent folly, harbour no
permanent hostility because of the other's behaviour.
Openly to discuss your party behaviour in the cold and sober drizzle of
a January day is clearly out of the question. What you must do,
therefore, is distance yourselves as far as possible from the hideous
Arrange to meet for tea, preferably at Browns Hotel in Albemarle Street.
Think of yourselves as Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. Bring up the
subject of mutual friends - he, Nigel, an account executive; she, Fiona,
his client - who took temporary leave of their senses at a Christmas
party and who now wish to resume their previously uncomplicated
relationship. Devise for this undeserving pair a stratagem of recovery:
it should probably involve advising them to distance themselves as much
as possible from the hideous reality by assuming two new, fictional
Do not stay on and have a drink. From now on, think of those two at the
party as Fiona and Nigel: and refer to them as such. Shake your heads at
their recklessness - and wish them well.
Then move into an open-plan office.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a former
director of Guardian Media Group and a director of WPP. He also writes a
monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business
advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced
£5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com, or
Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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