On the campaign couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the campaign couch ... with JB

Q: Dear JB, Your previous advice on the link between no ties, jeans and success in comms has proved invaluable.

Your further insight will be appreciated on the career prospects for those wearing long shirts outside vs the inside trousers fraternity. Yours sincerely, John Billett.

A: Dear JB, thank you for this question. I would have hoped that a man such as yourself, who has attained both material success and high reputation, would long ago have shrugged off the insecurity that your question betrays.

It's admirable that a person of your seniority should still be so concerned about career prospects. Are there no limits to your ambition? And surely there comes a time when a person has earned the right to establish convention rather than follow it?

Furthermore, there exists an inexorable law of self-branding. It has no name - and, perhaps for that reason, goes widely unrecognised - but it's this: in all conscious decisions taken by any individual about his or her distinctive appearance, there comes a watershed, a tipping point, beyond which all those cues that have for so long made a positive contribution to personal brand equity almost imperceptibly begin to have a negative effect. The more distinctive those brand cues, the more acute the potential reaction. It could be what keeps Madonna awake at night. Sir Richard Branson, too, may be giving it some thought. In both their cases, the tipping point has yet to be reached - but it can't be more than a year or two away. Only Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile OBE KCSG has so far dodged the problem - and he did it by choosing to look freakish from the beginning.

Sooner or later, the thrusting young executive with his shirt outside his trousers is going to have to make a decision. If he continues to climb that ladder, and is still looking hungrily at the remaining rungs, he'll have to tuck that shirt in or look ridiculous. But that's what's so good about shirt conventions: unlike beards, flamboyant hair styles or tattoos, when they've achieved their first stage objective, they can be abandoned with relatively little comment or embarrassment.

In your case, JB, my strong advice is that you should stay exactly as you are. You brilliantly overcame the disadvantage of dressing boringly when you were young; it's only right that you should now enjoy the rewards. And well-deserved, too, if I may say so.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'm an account director who, for the past couple of years, has been honoured to be invited on the agency's management away-day. However, despite on each occasion collectively coming up with wonderful ideas on how we can improve our services, work more efficiently and effectively for clients and create a better working environment and culture, nothing has ever changed. I'm beginning to think I'm working for the wrong agency. Please tell me all away-days aren't as useless as ours seem to be.

A: The fact that it has taken you two years to come to this transparently obvious conclusion makes me think that maybe you've got the agency you deserve.

When specific national issues get particularly unpleasant, governments announce the setting up of An Enquiry. Some Enquiries lead to recommendations that actually find their way on to the statute book - but not many. The preferred Enquiry is The Enquiry That Is An End In Itself. Time passes, other topics take centre stage, the media move on: with no need for expensive, time-consuming legislation, the Enquiry has delivered all that was required of it.

When agency workers get restless and complain that their voices are unheard and their opinions ignored, agency managements decide to hold an Away-Day. Some away-days lead to recommendations that actually get put into practice - but not many. The preferred away-day is The Away-Day That Is An End In Itself. Managements satisfy themselves that the workers have been able to let off steam and will now return compliantly to their workstations. No need for any disruptive changes to the way we've always done things round here. The Away-Day has delivered all that was required of it.

For the best agencies - and the best companies generally - every day is a sort of living, breathing away-day; with the startling difference that worthwhile suggestions actually get put to the test. Ideas seep up as well as down. They don't need a Complaints Box or a Suggestion Box. Few changes are dramatic; they don't have to be. Because experiment is a constant, there's little fear of failure.

The only way for you to make any of this happen is to become part of management. And management certainly isn't going to let a troublemaker like you become part of it.

"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