Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 23 September 2005 12:00AM

Here are five questions. I grant you they're not representative.

I agree that some of them (please God) are probably jokes. And I freely concede that I've chosen to bunch them together for maximum effect. Nevertheless, I invite you to read them straight through now and I'll then set you a small empathy test.

Q1: I am a creative but am rubbish at table football. How can I keep face amongst my fellow creatives?

Q2: When I tell my family that I am a planner, they start telling me about the best bus stop to use. How can I big-up my role?

Q3: I am the chief executive of an advertising agency. My planning director has not been asked to contribute to the A List. This has really upset her. Do you think I should ring Campaign and ask them to include her?

Q4: One of my clients is rumoured to be diversifying its spend below the line. This threatens the above-the-line budget, ie. mine. What can I do to stop us losing budget?

Q5: I am a photographer new to the commercial world. One of my first experiences working with an art director was, to be frank, an absolute nightmare. The combination of his mammoth ego and a woolly brief was too much to bear, and we had to go our separate ways. Do you have any tips for getting on with art directors?

A: Now: keeping all those questions fresh in your mind - and pushing your ability to see things through the eyes of others to the limit - how do you think they'd strike the following people?

a) The teacher you most admired at your last school. b) Your parents. c) Your best friend who's doing OK in consultancy. d) The client procurement person who's going to have a big say in that £23 million pitch you've just been shortlisted for. e) A bright, third-year undergraduate wondering whether to try for the BBC, Unilever, Goldman Sachs or advertising. f) Your partner.

It wouldn't be at all surprising if, on this highly selective evidence, every one of them came to the conclusion that the trade we're all in was: shallow and childish (Q1); petty and insecure (Qs 2 and 3); unprincipled (Q4); boorish and unprofessional (Q5).

Here are some of the things that makes our trade unlike any other: our highly developed sense of absurdity; our capacity to conjure a miniature masterpiece out of a three-volume briefing document; our hilarious combination of over-confidence and insecurity; our mindless competitiveness; our occasional ability to span the most rigorous piece of econometric modelling and a back-of-the-envelope stroke of intuitive brilliance; our hopelessness at knowing how to charge for what we deliver (and embarrassment at having to raise the subject in the first place); and our touching anxiety to be taken seriously.

If we stopped being any of these things, we would be much less useful to clients and much less fun to work for.

Even the most censorious of observers (see above) would find all these characteristics certainly forgivable and mainly endearing. We just ought to be a lot less tolerant of those occasions when we're petty, unprincipled, boorish and unprofessional. Our reluctance to condemn, I suspect, springs from a fear of being thought prissy; which is why I very nearly didn't write this.

Q: There's an account manager at my agency who reports to me. I find this individual is really in the wrong job. He's been doing it for years and despite regular feedback, advice and training, never improves but often lets the agency down. The problem is my boss really likes him. What shall I do?

A: One of the least admirable characteristics of the lesser breed of account persons is their spineless use of mythical client opinion to give themselves surrogate authority. "I tell you, Biffo, I got as close to resigning the bloody account as I ever have. But Trevor just won't budge. Says it's contrary to CSR policy. I tell you, mate, I'm as gutted as you are." Translation: "Next time give me something I can actually show him."

I'm sure that you, as a person of high integrity, have never stooped to this craven stratagem - but maybe, just for this once, you should.

If this account manager of yours is as hopeless as you say, even clients must notice. If your boss won't take any notice of you, he certainly should of his clients.

Invent a formal letter from your client, itemising the account manager's failings and requesting his immediate removal from the business.

That should do it. I grant you it's petty and unprincipled - but it's not boorish and it might just qualify as professional.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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