A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do I keep up my agency's morale?

An agency chief executive writes: Merry Christmas, Jeremy! We're a small agency and getting wind of a big Christmas pitch pumping through the pipeline.

I’m going to need all hands on deck. How do I break the news to my staff without destroying their morale?
This is an even bigger question than you think it is. Maybe you’ve jogged along perfectly well up till now without having to sit down and work out what kind of agency you want yours to be. And I don’t mean what kind of agency you want to be for clients. I mean what kind of agency you want to be for the people who work for you.

There’s no right answer. As a small agency, much will depend on what sort of person you are yourself – so start with a bit of self-analysis. 

Are you a democrat, an autocrat, an organiser or an impresario? Do you instinctively use the first-person singular more often than the first-person plural – or the other way round?

Do you see yourself as the arbiter on all advertising matters – or as a primus inter pares with a select cabinet of talented people to whom you’re happy to defer when it comes to craft judgments? 

Once you’ve got yourself accurately profiled (and check with your best friend to make sure you haven’t cheated), you’ll know what to do about this Christmas pitch. And the first decision you must make is not to act out of character. So if you’re normally an empathetic sort of person, don’t suddenly turn yourself into an authori-tarian. You’ll confuse the troops and you’ll do it extremely unconvincingly.

But if you’re naturally dictatorial, and widely known to be, then don’t waste too much time mooning about the recently married young copywriter who may have to miss that Christmas Eve supper with her new in-laws. Pick your team, tell them exactly what’s expected of them, lead from the front, make no apologies and no concessions – and don’t even mention bonuses or extra holiday until the pitch is safely behind you.

Alternatively, if you’re the kind of person who finds such behaviour anti-family and inhumane, then pose the problem to a wider group. (The one option you mustn’t give them is deciding not to compete: even those who’d complain most bitterly about being made to work over Christmas would think you irredeemably spineless if you chose not to go for it.) Show your concern, ask for volunteers and invent imaginative treats for those inconvenienced families, with particular attention given to children; and do it all with unwavering resolve.

Play to your strength, whichever it is, and morale will be maintained. 

Of course, if you’re a ditherer, you’ll dither. That simply means that you shouldn’t have been made CEO and you certainly won’t win the business.

I know someone in our industry who’s a bit of a petrolhead, but he always leaves his flash motor behind when visiting clients, choosing instead a modest vehicle unlikely to attract any attention in their car park. Would he be more successful if he took the Aston?
If he’s already thought to be exceptionally clever, the Aston would only add to his lustre. If he’s thought to be no more than a bog-standard bag-carrier, the Aston would swiftly be the end of him. That he leaves it at home suggests that he’s commendably self-aware.

Dear Jeremy, I was featured in Campaign’s lookalikes section of last year’s Annual and, while everyone else I work with finds it very amusing, I find the comparison rather offensive. Am I just being churlish?
No, no. Vain, petty-minded and humourless, certainly – but I wouldn’t say churlish.

Every so often, trade magazines revamp their format and the editor then devotes their leader to it in the first redesigned issue. Why do they do this?
They want to read praise for their new design in a respected journal.

Do ‘health warnings’ at the bottom of ads work?
Of course. They’re not designed to be read; they’re designed to insure the advertiser against corrective action. If they read: 

"Every fact in the above advertisement is a lie. Consumption of the featured product has been known to lead to impotence and the onset of goitre."

I bet no-one would notice.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE