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

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, do you think that the dynastic principle works well in advertising? I'm proud of the agency I founded and would like to pass it on to my son who, as yet, shows no sign of interest in advertising, but I'm sure I can convince him.

A: Most of the people who work in your agency presumably rate you quite highly. You took the risk and started it - and, by the sound of it, made a good go of it. You have earned their respect. That's why they go on working for you and why you've got a good agency.

Now you plan to insult all those people by passing on their agency to someone who knows nothing about advertising and doesn't want to.

Yours will be a very shortlived dynasty.

Q: In an episode of Mad Men, the creative Paul Kinsey stays up late trying to come up with a brilliant idea to promote telegrams as a form of communication, for the client Western Union. After much struggle, he has a moment of inspiration when he has a late-night conversation with the Greek janitor Achilles. Irrepressibly proud of himself, he returns to his office and pours himself a large Bourbon.

We cut to the next scene, where he is woken up by his secretary at 9am the following morning - he had fallen asleep on his sofa. As he comes to, he remembers he had an epiphany during the night. He is sure he wrote it down, but he didn't. And now he can't remember it.

Did you ever forget a brilliant idea?

A: If you're paid to catch fish, you know that there are fish to be caught. If you're paid to have ideas, you have no such knowledge. Unlike fish, ideas don't exist until you've caught them. And you may not.

Most people who are paid to have ideas live with the petrifying possibility that they may never catch another. Yet to have ideas, a certain level of self-confidence is essential. So people who are paid to have ideas often resort to self-deceiving ruses. I'm pretty sure that that's what Paul Kinsey was up to.

How much better for the self-esteem to have had a brilliant idea and then forgotten it, than never to have had it in the first place. He almost certainly believed he had.

Speaking for myself, I've quite forgotten how many brilliant ideas I had and then forgot but I'm pretty sure that it must have been dozens.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I have just launched a start-up. How do I create a great agency culture?

A: Most people learn how to open their parachutes before taking their first jump. I see you've decided to figure it out on the way down.

When you persuaded your partners to give up their jobs, mortgage their mortgages and join you; and when you persuaded hard-headed moneymen to lend you getting on for a million quid, what did you actually say to them all? You must have had some sort of rudimentary business plan? Some idea of why yet another agency, launched into a massively over-supplied market, might just conceivably survive and prosper?

Your business model couldn't have been based on price or location or technology. It can only have been based, as has every other new agency since 1864, on the style, talent, record, commitment and contacts of its principals. And their principles.

So why are you now wondering how to create a great agency culture?

Perhaps you believe all that earlier carefully crafted evangelism has served its purpose: the staff's been lured in and the lines of credit established.

Enough of the tap-dancing; you now need to work out what your agency is going to be like in real life.

Should this be the case, you're doomed. You'll be yet another beige agency, scrabbling for business on unsustainable terms.

But if you actually believe in your own prospectus; if you remain true to your principles and maintain them ruthlessly; and if you contrive to see that they're legitimately associated with some early success, then you'll have your great culture without even mentioning the word.

Q: I read on a blog recently that Japanese scientists are working to make digital ads interactive so you can kiss the people in them (as you pucker your lips and approach the ad, the person will do the same). Did you ever imagine anything like this would be possible when you were working at JWT all those years ago?

A: Oh, yes. It's very much why I got out.

"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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