No. Insisting on a degree as an essential condition of application is a quick and easy method of elimination. No judgment is called for. You can see why it's so widely practised. And it probably does eliminate a lot of dross. But any screening process that mechanically eliminates the next David Ogilvy has to be questionable.
I'd try to devise long-distance tests that invited evidence of curiosity, persuasiveness, wit, originality and competitiveness. Rating them would be time-consuming; but then interviewing a great many deeply unsuitable people is also time-consuming. The only ones I'd interview would be the ones I already knew to be extremely interesting.
Q: Dear Jeremy, I've just done a year in an ad agency as a trainee planner. The problem is, I'm starting to wish I was working in the creative department. I've got no creative training but it seems more fun down there. And when I see what they come up with, I reckon I could do just as well. Do people ever swap departments and do you think my agency would take me seriously if I asked to give creativity a go?
There's a long-standing agency protocol - half-trade unionism and half-mysticism - that decrees that only members of the creative department can be creative. (I use the word "can" in both senses: are capable of being creative and are allowed to be creative.) An extension of this protocol decrees that any member of a creative department, irrespective of output, is by definition creative and that any creative idea generated by persons not of the creative department cannot be any good. All this, though patently absurd, is unquestioningly honoured by people of all disciplines.
Furthermore, it's been many years since creative people were allowed to be singular. Creative people are now one half of a creative team. And creative teams can be identified by the fact that they have a Book. The Book contains all the evidence necessary that the creative team is indeed creative: as does The Reel.
There are therefore three serious strikes against you. You aren't a member of the right department. You're not a team. And you haven't got a Book. You're clearly not creative.
So if you, as a trainee planner with all of a year's experience, were to approach your executive creative director and say "Excuse me, sir, but do you think I could give creativity a go?", you should not expect a positive response.
However, if you're any good at planning, you should be good at cunning strategies. Here's one you might consider.
Approach the most senior creative person with whom you have a reasonable relationship, lower your eyes deferentially and speak as follows: "As a planner, I see my entire reason for existence as being to provide creative people such as yourself with strategic insights. Somehow, in a way quite mysterious to me, you are then able to transform those poor insights into magical executions, which go on to win prizes. It's an ability bordering on alchemy that I admire hugely, knowing as I do that I'll never possess it myself. But I believe I could be of even greater value to you if I actually attempted to master the creative process myself. Through my inevitable failure, I feel certain I'd acquire a perception and an understanding that could only help me help you a great deal more in the future.
"So when the next creative brief comes along, as well as giving it to the appointed team, would you be kind enough to pair me with an art director and let us work on it as well? Simply for the edifying experience, you understand?"
You may find these words a little on the unctuous side but the idea's a good one. It might just work. Even if you do fail, you'll learn a lot. And if you crack it, you could be on your way.
Q: I've just joined the marketing department of a soft drinks company targeting young people. I'm young, but secretly I don't feel as "funky" and "vibrant" (the company's words) as the brand I'm working on. Do you think I need to get more personally in tune with my product in order to really get to grips with how to market it?
Please don't. It would be extremely embarrassing. If you're going to be any good at marketing, you'll have to learn what it's like to be interested in eyeliner without having a sex change or to fret about your dentures without having your teeth pulled.
"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 email@example.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.