My best tip is based on my long-ago experience with exams. In answering questions about King Lear, for example, most of my more conscientious fellow students would know so much about King Lear, and so much about respected scholars’ opinions about King Lear, and were so anxious to impress their examiners with their encyclopaedic knowledge of King Lear, that they spilled as much of that knowledge as they had time for on to their examination papers. The result was an impressive display of memory, an unshapely regurgitation of other people’s opinions – and no evidence of original thought. My best friend and I, however, were lazy. We liked King Lear as a play and found no pleasure in laying its corpse on a pathologist’s table and compiling a taxonomy of its component parts. We knew very little about King Lear – certainly not enough to take up three hours – so we were forced to find significant meaning in the little we did know. We were forced to think for ourselves – and the examiners were grateful.
So I suggest you stop believing that you’ve got to mug up on every bit of new information that becomes available. Not only will you fail, but the very attempt will stifle your imagination. Instead, hang on to a few favourite themes and theories of your own and pay attention only to new information that seems to confirm or challenge them. It’s far better to know more than most about a little than only a little about almost everything.
Are money and great creative work always diametrically opposed?
It’s certainly true that being short of money can have the same stimulating effect as being short of information (see last answer). As Ernest Rutherford famously told his laboratory staff: "We haven’t any money, so we’ve got to think." Give two creative groups exactly the same brief, but with Group A having a production budget five times bigger than that of Group B, and you’ll get very different ideas. But the best won’t all come from the same group.
Will there ever be an end to bad pitch processes?
What’s changed since my day is that clients are now a lot more concerned with not getting it wrong than with getting it right. So much of the process is in place for future use when the sunlit uplands promised by the newly appointed agency turn out to be as drab and dismal as those of its discarded predecessor.
"I absolutely agree, chairmen. It’s extremely disappointing. I don’t mind telling you that, personally, I feel a very real sense of betrayal. Even with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t find fault with any element of our selection process. As you’ll be aware, we engaged the services of one of the industry’s most experienced and respected intermediaries. On its recommendation, we examined the credentials of 15 agencies, before reducing the number to five, from whom we demanded full creative proposals – all of which were then submitted to a rigorous programme of consumer research. I need hardly remind you that, throughout, we enjoyed the full participation of our friends from procurement. After an exhaustive nine months, we were unanimous in our belief that GumDropZ would offer us the best value for money. I can think of nothing else we could have done."
Well, I can. They could have met several agencies, looked at their work, talked to some of their existing clients, heard what they had to say about the brand and the business, discussed terms – and appointed the one they felt most comfortable with.
Bad pitch processes will prevail as long as pitches are held for the wrong reasons.
Is an empty desk a sign of an empty mind?
No. People like me, full of embarrassment and shame about our own desks (I came across a file the other day marked "May ’87 – URGENT"), hope this smug little maxim will somehow excuse our slovenliness. It doesn’t.
I have had enough of trying to keep up with all the drinking during client lunches. What kind of reaction do you think I would get if I suggested going cycling instead?
As long as it was only you, they’d be delighted.
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE