On the Campaign Couch...with JB

On the Campaign Couch...with JB

Q: How do I, as the agency boss, know if my employees are actually doing any work?

A high proportion of mine spend their day with headphones on staring at their computers, increasing numbers of which have security screens on top of the screen so you can only read it if you're directly in front. This means that my twice-daily office tour is becoming awkward and unproductive. Tapping people on the shoulder to get them to remove their headset makes me uncomfortable and hovering right behind them doesn't feel too cool either. Is there a software monitoring system I can buy that produces a dashboard on my office PC so I can see what they're up to without interrupting them or making myself appear Big Brotherish?

A: Bernard Gutteridge was an early, much-loved boss of mine. He was an admired poet (war poems from Madagascar, India and Burma) and wrote The Agency Game while working for Colman Prentis & Varley in 1954. It remains one of the funnier novels about advertising agencies.

He was often seen with his feet on his desk and his eyes closed. When once asked by a managing director what he was doing, Bernard replied: "I'm thinking what to put." Bernard spent a lot of time thinking what to put. And sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn't. Even when in the Coach & Horses, he might easily be thinking what to put; or then again, he might not.

I would guess that Bernard's average daily working time - by which I mean the time it took him to transfer his thoughts to a lined, yellow legal pad - would have been something under 30 minutes. Sometimes, his thoughts were never transcribed at all. When I was drafting a dry-as-dust corporate campaign for The Steel Company of Wales, full of statistical stuff about the astonishing speed of the strip mill, Bernard said: "Steel's in the blood of the Welsh." In those three seconds, he earned a full day's pay. Long before we went on about insights, Bernard had them.

As the boss of an advertising agency, rather than the boss of a sweatshop, you shouldn't be wasting any of your highly paid time being anguished about the number of hours your employees are actually working. You should have only three concerns: that the work's done; that the work makes you proud; and that it earns more money than it costs.

Q: We're desperate to evidence our social media creds so we've set up an agency blog and, at first, lots of staff joined in. However, their enthusiasm has waned, leaving a small core of enthusiastic activists who are obsessed with online war-gaming and Italian football, and post several times daily. Do you see a way that I can make their posts relevant to our clients by dropping in occasional ones of my own contextualising and reframing what they're saying?

A: I have a weary suspicion you and the author of the question above must be one and the same. I find it hard to believe there could be two agency bosses both with personalities so grotesquely unsuited to the role.

There is true joy in the spectacle of a control freak encouraging his underlings to blog. Perhaps you should have issued a preliminary all-staff e-mail: "In order to demonstrate to clients and potential clients this agency's mastery of the power and nature of social media, we have now instituted a company blog to which all staff members are required to contribute. While freshness and spontaneity are naturally encouraged, potential contributors should in all cases submit their draft proposals to the Online Corporate Communications Committee for clearance prior to posting. In the interests of conformity and relevance, we reserve the right to reframe and contextualise any contribution that might be thought to transgress approved company guidelines."

I bet you wish you'd thought of that.

Q: I'm a client for a major FMCG company. Every week, I seem to flick through Campaign and see another one of my fellow marketers moving across to agency-side in some sort of strategy or consulting role. Why the sudden interest from agencies, and why are we all so keen to take those roles?

A: Particularly during testing economic times, clients endlessly tell agencies that agencies never really get to grips with the harsh realities of business, particularly during testing economic times. So rather than embark on an utterly self-defeating programme intended to educate their people in the harsh realities of business, which, if successful, would castrate their agency and render it valueless, agencies hire A Real Client. It's far from clear how this is supposed to work - which perhaps explains why it never does.

"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.