Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 02 December 2005 12:00AM

Q: I'm a creative director on the verge of greatness - my agency's work is fantastic, my department love me and I'm well thought of by the global management team. I'm lacking one thing though - a prop, a calling-card, call it what you will, that will make me truly famous. I've seen rivals at awards dinners and in press pictures wearing wacky bow ties, chomping on cigars or wearing strange NHS-style glasses. Could you recommend a suitable approach for me?

A: You say you're lacking just one thing. Funny, that - because I've already detected seven other things you're lacking. Humility, for starters. And then there's sagacity, sensitivity, judgment, maturity, any sense of absurdity - and, oddly, creativity. A creative director on the verge of greatness who can't even think up the equivalent of a joke cigar or a wacky bow tie may find that greatness, much like the horizon, proves permanently elusive. Do just check that the verge you think you're on isn't the hard shoulder. Somehow I see you sitting there, bonnet up and hazard lights flashing, while far less fancy autos speed past, spraying you with a light film of motorway grime. I think you've stalled. What's more, I think you know you've stalled; which is why you've convinced yourself that all you need is a pair of tartan trousers or a monocle.

However, on the assumption that at least some of your delusions are at least partially justified, it's not too late to relaunch yourself; and this is what I recommend.

Be ostentatiously invisible. Follow the lead of Mr Cellophane in Chicago.

Inspire your department to produce even more fantastic work - but take no credit whatsoever. Do not allow your name to be even associated with any of those awards your agency keeps winning. Get your PA to decline all invitations for you to do Private View or chair creative juries. Wear grey suits, black lace-up shoes and your old blue school raincoat. Drive a Cortina. Never be seen at functions, conferences or Soho House. Buy your lunchtime sandwiches from Tesco and eat them on a bench at Paddington. Go ex-directory. Within months, you will be the most talked-about creative director in the land. The media section of a serious national will run a full-page profile of you - with a silhouette in place of a photograph. You will have achieved true fame.

Naturally, all this does depend on the work being fantastic - but you did say it was, didn't you?

Q: One of our biggest clients is a family run business with no meddlesome shareholders to worry about. Nepotism is rife and the boss' son has just been made marketing director. He looks about 12 and acts like it. He throws his weight around and threatens to tell his Dad, who thinks the sun shines out of his arse, if we cross him. We'd like to clip him around the ear and send him to bed without his tea. Can you suggest a more practical way of getting him out of our hair?

A: Since your client is big, they'll yearn to be bigger. Encourage this expansionist frame of mind. Do they operate in New Zealand? No? Then what an opportunity! Tough market, of course: need someone young, confident, marketing background, close to the big boss himself ... anyone spring to mind?

As you don't, yourself, have an agency in New Zealand, you won't, sadly, be able to provide the lad with much help. But you could certainly recommend an agency, couldn't you? What luck that your brother-in-law who you can't stand should just have opened up there.

Q: Dear Jeremy, my marketing director is currently enjoying all the hospitalities of the season from our roster of ad agencies. Meanwhile, as usual, the brand manager (me) is left doing all the work. Any advice?

A: A hundred years ago, at a client/agency role-reversal seminar, I was the pretend marketing director and David Abbott was my pretend brand manager.

In meeting after meeting, the pretend agencies looked only at me and laughed extravagantly at my jokes. They never once looked at David, who got increasingly vexed. He was, after all, in real life, the highly respected managing director of a highly respected advertising agency. So before the next round of presentations, we announced I was being transferred to South-East Asia and that David was taking over as marketing director. After that, they looked only at David and took not a blind bit of notice of me. Boy, did I sulk.

I'm sure you've taken the point. An unconfirmed rumour that you're poised for meteoric promotion will do wonders for your social engagements book.

Goodness knows how these rumours start. Campaign, probably.

- "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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