Ask Bullmore: How do I make it as an introvert in the workplace?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: How do I make it as an introvert in the workplace?

Campaign's resident agony uncle gives advice to an introvert struggling to stand out in a creative department.

Dear Jeremy, my executive creative director gave me a mediocre performance review because, according to them, I need to be more aggressive and assertive. As an introvert, how can I make my place in a creative department?

One of the more pernicious agency customs is to over-promote creative people because they give good meetings. Good meetings are what bad account directors like. Bad account directors love creative people who show off, who have an element of safe eccentricity, who say creative things and who can make thin ideas – at least for the duration of the meeting – seem to have a certain substance.

I suspect your ECD became an ECD largely on the back of an ability to give good meetings. It will end in tears. Sooner rather than later, clients notice and begin to wonder why good meetings don’t seem to lead to good advertising.

You weren’t hired to be assertive and aggressive. You were hired to think inventively about brands and how to make them more desirable. Once people know you can do that, your introversion will become a mark of ability.

I have recently been promoted to a global marketing role. I’m still grappling with issues such as how to compete with rivals I have never even heard of and have been tasked to drive efficiencies in my marketing and advertising budgets. I’m loath to get rid of my existing roster agencies – they’ve been with my brands for a very long time and could help me compete in the global markets. Are there general rules of thumb that I could apply here?

I suspect that you were so thrilled to be offered a global marketing role that you quite forgot to work out what it entailed and whether you’d be any good at it. Both your business card and your bank statements will look more impressive but you may soon be utterly miserable.

My concern is fuelled by what you’ve been tasked to do: "to drive efficiencies in your marketing and advertising budgets".

"Efficiency" is a word that’s been kidnapped by the cost-cutters. It’s entirely possible for an organisation to become more efficient as the result of an increase in budgets, efficiently spent. Somewhere, there must be case histories of exactly that having happened, and they should be part of every chief executive’s reference library.

It’s all too obvious that your own CEO doesn’t know about them. He hasn’t asked you to make more money; he just wants you to spend less. And this at a time when the penalties incurred for losing touch with your market have never been more expensively apparent.

Washington lost touch with Wyoming; Westminster with Wythenshawe. And you’ve been given a global role, which means you’re immediately out of personal touch with 90% of everything you now depend on for success.

However many flying visits you make to far-flung corners of your empire, you will remain out of touch while local competitors, whose names you barely know, outmanoeuvre you at every turn. And local competitors are more dangerous than ever before; the digital age much prefers David to Goliath.

So the first thing you must do is bone up on subsidiarity. A core belief of the Catholic church, it challenges the centralisation so beloved of your chief executive and believes that, for success, all activities should be conducted by the lowest, smallest and simplest competent unit available.

Only when a task is too great should it be referred up the line. Companies that practise subsidiarity seldom lose touch with their audience – and never as completely as those that practise centralisation.

Identify your territories. See that you have competent people in those territories who know those territories. Trust them. Get them all together at least twice a year to swap gripes and winning wheezes. And reward them on the basis not of how much they save but of how much they make.

You’ll be OK.

My creative director schedules all our meetings in the pub. I have no interest in drinking in the afternoon. How do I broach this problem?

Please reread your question. Don’t you see how feeble it makes you seem? (But, there again, perhaps you are.)

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haymarket.com or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.