Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 September 2008 12:00AM

Q: Dave Trott once said that responding to a brief with creative ideas is "all about the last three days" - what's your take on this?

A: People who do crossword puzzles every day may take an average of two hours to complete them. Then they enter a crossword competition. And when pitched against the clock, they complete a crossword of exactly the same level of difficulty in no more than 30 minutes. So yes, it's true: deadlines, like the prospect of being hanged, do concentrate the mind wonderfully. They deter you from drift, from making another cup of coffee, from cleaning out the goldfish bowl and from waves of doubt about everything you've thought of so far. You arrive at a solution you'd have arrived at anyway - but a great deal more quickly. All this is more or less understood and agreed.

But deadlines attached to creative briefs have another and even more valuable function. When you know you've got to solve a problem - and you know you've got to solve it by tomorrow lunchtime - your mind gets taken over. It's invaded, occupied, preoccupied. Not necessarily at a conscious level, but from then on absolutely everything you observe is checked out as a possible solution to the problem that's squatting in your head - restless and ravenous and screaming to be fed. Absolutely everything you see or hear is scanned and assessed as a potential solution. And the burning knowledge of the deadline keeps it all alive.

In the course of his life, David Ogilvy would have observed many men in black eye-patches and thought little of them. But in 1950-something, he was obsessively concerned to find a shorthand visual symbol for sophisticated, discriminating, cosmopolitan man; and the chance sighting of a man wearing an eye-patch was like a light going on. And so The Man in the Hathaway Shirt was invented: according to one version of the story, actually on the way to the client presentation.

It wasn't the first bath that Archimedes had taken. But he'd only just been given a client brief and a tight deadline. His client, a tyrant by the name of Hiero, had been presented with an elaborate crown and wanted to know if it was made of pure gold. But they couldn't determine its purity until they knew both its weight, which was easy, and also its volume - which wasn't. Archimedes was given a couple of days to crack it before the brief was to be opened up for wider review. Immediately, the urgent need to find a way of measuring the volume of a complicated solid took possession of his mind.

From then on, absolutely everything he saw or heard was scanned and assessed as a potential answer. So when he sank himself into his bath and the water level rose - as indeed it had done over the years whenever he'd taken a bath - on this preoccupied occasion it took on a new significance. The light went on. "I, too," Archimedes thought "am a complicated solid!" And "Eureka!" he cried, having just that second discovered displacement.

And that, I'm pretty sure, is what Dave Trott meant. I hope so, anyway.

Q: One of my clients went to the same holiday hotel as us this summer. They have children the same age as ours and when I spotted them my natural instinct was to meet up. However, my partner was very reluctant to do this and demanded that we change hotels, which we did with great difficulty and at additional cost. Do you think it would be fair for me to put in an expense claim for this?

A: Suppose you'd arrived at your holiday location to learn that this client had already arrived but was staying at a different hotel. With or without the agreement of your partner, you might well have decided - whatever the difficulty and expense - to move your family from your hotel to his.

That's what attentive agency suits are expected to do. And on your return, you might well have believed that the extra costs incurred could quite legitimately be reclaimed on the basis of client retention: surely it's the hallmark of the true agency person to nourish client relationships even when on holiday?

So wouldn't it seem a little perverse to claim for doing the opposite? Surely, in the long and glorious history of agency expenses, this would be the first time that anyone had been handsomely compensated for deliberately ignoring an important client.

As it happens, I think that you were wrong and your partner right. And I don't suppose your clients would have been exactly thrilled to find you at the next table, either. But don't expect your company to pay you for calculated client avoidance.

"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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