A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do I stop procrastinating?

How can I stop myself procrastinating? I'm sure I could be great at this business if I could only get around to doing stuff.

You shouldn’t have to stop yourself procrastinating.

One of the many side-benefits of working in advertising is that you don’t need much self-discipline. I did almost no work at university because I was rarely frightened. But from the moment I joined an agency, transmission dates and client presentations imposed their remorseless deadlines – and I always met them. You shouldn’t have to stop yourself procrastinating: your agency should do it for you. (And if I were you, I’d think it more than a little sinister that they don’t.) 

How do you know when it’s time to leave your job?
When your agency’s clearly given up expecting you to do anything useful.

If you were starting your career today, would you go into advertising?
About 85 years ago, Franklin D Roosevelt asked himself the same question – and this was his answer: 

"If I were starting life over again, I am inclined to think that I would go into the advertising business in preference to almost any other. The general raising of standards of modern civilisation among all groups of people during the past half-century would have been impossible without that spreading of the knowledge of higher standards by means of advertising."

Understandably, advertising people love this quotation. Confronted with an Orwell – "Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket" – it’s very comforting to be able to reach for an FDR. There aren’t many universally admired world statesmen who’ve so unequivocally endorsed our trade. 

The point that he makes about the raising of the standards of modern civilisation was almost certainly true when looking back over the first 50 years of the 20th century. Those standards would have risen without any advertising – but far more slowly. (With the collapse of the USSR, when advertising and competitive marketing were reintroduced to Poland, for example, the country caught up with the West in just a few years.) 

Today, the very availability of advertising doesn’t have such a dramatic effect because its existence ensures that producers are permanently motivated to make even very small, sometimes ludicrously small, improvements to their products – simply because they can tell the world about them. It remains one of advertising’s less acknowledged services to mankind; indeed, perversely, advertising sometimes gets criticised for seeming to trumpet the trivial. It’s worth remembering that the cumulative effect of a few dozen trivials can be at least as beneficial as one great leap every ten years; it’s just not as noticeable.

There are many other reasons why I’m pretty sure I’d think favourably of an advertising career. I like its vulgarity: you simply can’t get as out of touch with reality as politicians and lawyers can, for example. I like the fact that intelligent people with years of advertising experience can still disagree with each other about how it works. I like the fact that it attracts and rewards people with ambidextrous brains. I like the fact that it’s quite difficult to do well. I like the contribution it makes to the price and diversity of media. I like the fact that much of advertising competes with itself: brand versus brand; to spend, to save. I like the fact that it’s (mostly) well-mannered, because it has to be. And I can’t think of another occupation that values its workers for their curiosity about everything from fibre-optic cable to Kim Kardashian. 

But I feel all that because I know the business from the inside out. If I had to base my choice of career on nothing but advertising’s commonly held reputation, I just don’t know.

Should creatives be allowed on stage to collect awards for work done at previous agencies?
Yes, but… 

As I believe most creative people would agree, an agency’s culture can make it more or less likely to inspire and nurture exceptional work. An award that fails to honour the agency as well as the individuals will fail to tell the true story.

Have you used, or would you use, a virtual-reality headset? Do you see VR as the next big thing in advertising?
No. No. No.

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