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

On the campaign couch...with JB

Q: I've found that saying "I'm in advertising" just doesn't impress people at dinner parties any more. Is it time to get out of this industry?

A: Tell me more about those dinner parties. Did you really sit down, clear your throat and say with manly authority: "I'm in advertising." And did that so impress your fellow diners that they then listened in silent respect to your views on electoral reform, Rajasthan, rain forests and the exaggerated expectations of the modern au pair? If you ever found that being in advertising made an impression at dinner parties, I can only assume that all the other guests were actuaries.

Advertising, praise the Lord, has never been respectable. People in respectable occupations very quickly get self-satisfied. And self-satisfied people very quickly get pompous. And pompous people are unfailingly boring.

There are, of course, some boring people in advertising (I know seven) but they're rare. Advertising, proportionately, contains fewer boring people than any other trade. And that's because, to survive socially, people in less than respectable trades have to earn acceptance through the exercise of their wits. Barristers and chartered surveyors don't need to. People in advertising do. I'd rather wait for six hours at an airport with someone from advertising than with someone from any other occupation.

What's more, advertising as an occupation is twice blessed. While it will never be thought respectable, it actually is. To those who care about these things, applying one's higher education to persuading the lower classes to buy Toilet Duck rather than Harpic - or vice versa - is demeaning, vulgar, economically reprehensible and faintly embarrassing. And long may that last. If advertising ever became respectable, all its most engaging practitioners would depart.

All of which makes the hidden fact of advertising's almost entirely benign effect all the more gratifying. Most trades strive to attract more credit than they actually deserve. Advertising should continue to gloat in the secret knowledge that it attracts less.

Q: An agency founder writes: I'm throwing a lavish bash to celebrate our agency's anniversary and am in two minds about whether or not to invite my rivals. The chance to show off and wave my success in their faces is overwhelming but they will probably use the occasion to sweet-talk my clients into their arms. What do you recommend?

A: I don't suppose you begin to realise just how revealing your letter is. Your jangling insecurity fills me with compassion.

A year ago you did a brave and scary thing. You risked your reputation, your mortgage and very possibly your marriage when you decided to introduce a new agency to an already overcrowded market. Well-meaning friends and envious enemies all predicted disaster - but to your barely concealed astonishment, it worked. You attracted good staff and good clients and have begun to build a reputation. You're even almost in the black. You can't wait to crow; to yell yah-boo to those doomsters; to preen and prance and rub your rivals' noses in your triumph.

And yet, and yet. Deep down, you know it's early days. You know it may not last. You even fear that your new-won clients might be wooed away from you, at your own bash, by silver-tongued competitors.

So don't waste your money and don't tempt the gods. Invite only those who trusted you and supported you and shared your risks - and don't forget their families. Make it a modest bash, a work-in-progress bash, a thank-you bash. And let your rivals notice from afar.

Q: I have been roped into giving a talk on the world of advertising to sixth-formers at my son's school. Should I tell them the truth?

A: I wonder what you think the truth to be? You could remind them that George Orwell once said that "Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket". You could tell them how a really clever advertising agency, if paid enough, can take a product of no intrinsic worth and with no differentiating features and then, through the application of neuroscience and psycho-manipulative procedures, induce ill-educated people on low incomes with no need of such a product to buy dozens.

If you tell them all that, and if your son's school's sixth-formers are like a lot of other sixth-formers, they'll be queuing up afterwards pleading for an interview. Wow. Sounds cool.

Alternatively, you could take them through some of the thoughts expressed in the first answer. You may not interest as many of them; but they'll all be interesting.

"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

Topics