Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 07 December 2007 12:00AM

Q: The advertising agency my company employs has invited me and my wife on a skiing weekend. I'm tempted to say yes, as they are a fun bunch, but does this risk sending the wrong message out to the agency and my colleagues?

A: Not in the least. You and you wife should feel entirely free to enjoy any company you choose. It would be an intolerable infringement of your individual liberty were your company to suggest otherwise.

My answer would naturally have been very different had you intended to let your agency pay but I feel sure that would never have crossed your mind.

Q: I have just realised my life's ambition and got my first job in advertising. Now I'm here, I've discovered I don't much like the people. I can cope with that - but what does it say about my suitability for this career?

A: Of all the unkind epithets directed at advertising people, I've never come across unlikeability. Advertising people tend to be indefatigably likeable. A recent survey revealed that 87 per cent of respondents, if fogbound for seven hours in Malpensa Airport, would choose to be fogbound with advertising people.

That's what makes your case so unusual. I know you haven't been in this job for long but you must have met 50 people - and you haven't liked any of them. No-one. You shouldn't fret too much about this, however, because your problem will rapidly sort itself out.

Advertising people, apart from being themselves likeable, are also famous for liking other people. The only people they don't care for at all are the very few who don't like them. When you settled on your life's ambition, I wonder if you had a second choice?

I do hope so.

Q: How important are face-to-face meetings these days? Is e-mail communication - which can be so easily misunderstood - hampering client-agency relationships?

A: The most valuable element in any communication is instant, immediate feedback. Did you get through? Did they get it? Were there crossed wires? Which end of the stick, if any, did they seize on?

Laughter remains the gold standard. Immediate and instinctive: unarguable proof of mission accomplished. Or not: absence of laughter is almost as valuable. The transmitter, instantly informed of signal failure, can modify, correct - and try again.

In face-to-face meetings, the equivalent of laughter is facial expression: does it register comprehension, confusion, or deep personal offence? Again, immediate adjustment is possible.

The telephone at least offers an audible real-time reaction; you can probably judge if your point has been grasped or if some wild diversion has been accidentally triggered.

All written communication has always denied the transmitter real-time feedback. In olden days, this made the writer pause and think: I know what I mean to say, but how will it be received? Where are the potential ambiguities? Are my references familiar?

But the ease and informality of e-mail, and the illusion of immediacy, seem to have eliminated the need for reflection. So messages are rattled out, abbreviations and eccentric spelling seen as cool, first thoughts threadbare and second thoughts non-existent. Just press Send.

And at the far end, what? Who knows? Mystification, outrage, unjustified optimism? Who knows?

If you calculate the cost of a face-to-face meeting solely on the basis of time and travel, you'll be ignoring one of the greatest costs of all: the expensive unscrambling of serial misunderstandings that should never have been allowed to take root in the first place.

So the answer to your question is yes.

Q: Do I really need an ad agency? I have a great idea for an ad and I know exactly how I want it. Should I just find a director and get on with it?

A: By all means. This could be an extremely valuable experiment - and one that the IPA would do well to subsidise.

When your board voices doubts about your great commercial and suggests looking at alternatives, how confident are you that you could provide them? When asked to make dispassionate judgments between three of your own ideas, how will you know what you think? When the production goes £64,000 over budget, who will you blame? When you feel like a spot of lunch at The Wolseley, won't you be lonely?

Do keep us posted.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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