On The Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On The Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, one of the top planners at my agency asked me to contribute to an Account Planning Group Awards entry, which I did willingly as I had actually done most of the planning on the campaign and she'd hardly touched it.

I submitted the entry to her for checking; she seemed happy, made hardly any changes and sent it in. I asked if I would be credited and she said yes. Fast forward to the shortlist and my entry is there but, on checking, my name isn't. Fast further forward and I discover that I'm not invited to the dinner, which is only rectified at the last minute. We win an award and, despite my anger, I agree to join the walk-up. But months later, I'm still seething that my name isn't on the case and hers is, thus adding to her reputation but nothing to mine. Should I approach my chief executive and blow the whistle?

A: I think you're underestimating human nature in general and your colleagues in particular. And you've clearly yet to discover the sheer, goose-pimpled bliss of secretly knowing you're in the right and that someone else is in the wrong and that, sooner or later, the rest of the world will know it too.

What this top planner did is, of course, despicable. But as a planner yourself, you'll know enough about people to know that people's capacity for self-deception is boundless. All the best ideas have multiple authors. Some of them were in the room at the time, some of them weren't and some of them had yet to join the agency. And all know themselves to be the true creator. Should you sneak off to your CEO and accuse his top planner of credit-snatching and intellectual theft, he'll immediately ask his top planner for her version of events; and, as people usually are when telling the truth, she will be utterly convincing. The fact that hers will be a truth that no-one else would recognise will go undetected by the CEO. You will be forever branded as a ruthlessly ambitious junior, prepared to vilify a widely respected senior in your deluded hunger for recognition. There are enough such characters in fiction to lend such an interpretation spurious credibility.

So stop seething.

Instead, luxuriate in your knowledge. Share your mild amusement with those few other members of your group who will know the true facts. Wave away their suggestions that you should take the matter up with a higher authority. Let their indignation, and their admiration of your incredible maturity, seep, as they will, into the corporate consciousness. When other people quiz you about it, just shrug and smile and say it's water over the dam and that you've forgotten all about it.

And before you know it, as if by osmosis, with nothing specific having been said, or certainly having been written down, the whole true truth will somehow be known to everyone, including the CEO. The reputation of the top planner will never recover. And your own grace and forbearance will be seen as testimony to both your intelligence and integrity. You may confidently look forward to recognition and promotion. You'll be picking up APG Awards (while graciously acknowledging the invaluable assistance of your juniors) for years to come.

Just don't begin to see yourself as saintly, that's all. What I'm suggesting is behaviour not as despicable as that of your top planner - but it's pretty devious all the same.

Q: Where did the expression "an elephant in the room" come from? If one spots one, how does one deal with it without resorting to cliche?

A: It started out about 60 years ago meaning something very different: "... a problem equal to having an elephant in the living room. It's so big you can't ignore it." Now it means a problem so big you've got no choice but to ignore it.

To sidestep the cliche, try saying: "This is self-evidently an important and obvious topic, of which we're all well aware, but one which I predict will never be openly discussed because its sensitive and intractable nature means that any such discussion would cause at least some of us acute discomfort and, in any case, presents a problem of such complexity that any feasible solution would be politically unacceptable to at least some of those on whose wholehearted support it would depend."

You'll be lucky to get beyond the tenth word before someone will say: "You mean it's the elephant in the room."

Cliches have a value.

Q: Do you find the term "curating", as in "Joe's one of the great Twitter curators", annoying or illuminating?

A: Annoying.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

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