CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: Where do you stand on uniforms for staff?

A: If you're working for a train company, demonstrating cosmetics or guarding St James' Palace, uniforms have two advantages. They confer superficial authority on otherwise ordinary people and they greatly assist in distinguishing ticket collectors from passengers, cosmetic demonstrators from customers and guardsmen from grockles. If, as I suspect, you're in advertising, it's worth examining these advantages to see if they apply.

Agency people could certainly benefit from a greater injection of authority. They've never had much but never as little as today. I think it unlikely, however, that the adoption of uniforms would in itself remedy this deficiency. And while it is true that white coat and stethoscope can induce an element of deference toward the greenest of medical students, I have been unable to think of equivalent semiotics for agency personnel. Since we have no qualifications and no specialist tools, this is perhaps unsurprising.

Nor do agency people need to be distinguished from clients: agency people wear open-necked shirts and ingratiating expressions.

But nonetheless, you might be on to something. The most common complaint about advertising agencies is their total lack of discipline: about money, time, briefs and budgets. Were you to start a new agency, with uniformed staff, who delivered what was promised on time, on brief and within budget, you would very soon be rich: particularly since you could dispense with a creative department.

Q: I discover (via the pages of your organ) that I am Head of Worldwide Strategic Thinking. Any tips on what this might entail, and how to fill my days?

A: Travel. It's perfectly clear that you must travel. How can you possibly be Head of Worldwide Strategic Thinking if you stay in one place?

Furthermore, only by constant travelling will you be able to dodge such awkward questions as What Do You Actually Do?

Master a few key phrases: Knowledge Sharing and Best Practice should be among them. Draft a Personal Mission Statement. I suggest: "To elevate average worldwide agency delivery to the level of its current best." This sounds plausibly achievable while being safely immune to measurement.

Since global communications companies are incapable of internal communications, you will always be able to pick up something in Auckland to pass on in Beijing.

While attribution might be honourable, you may decide to put your own reputation first.

Q: How many agencies actually read the briefs that they are sent? I have recently wasted hours of my time receiving pitches from agencies whose ideas failed to meet the details of our brief, despite my brief following all the guidelines. How can I get over to agencies that I want something based on the brief, simply because that is what we want? Is there a solution I have missed? Help me please!

A: Yours is one of many complaints I receive along these lines. (See Question 1, above.) Were an agency to exist, uniformed or otherwise, which stuck methodically to briefs and budgets, I have no doubt you'd appoint them with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, the problem persists - and I can tell you why. The planning process within an advertising agency is painfully laborious. Thirty minutes before your meeting, your account handler sees the work for the first time. By now, your brief has been doubly distorted: first by the planner, anxious to add value; and then by the creative team, anxious to give a second chance to a cherished idea only recently rejected by another client. Your account handler has a choice: postpone the meeting, or claim unconvincingly to have added magic to logic. The meeting is seldom postponed.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

Topics