A: Cross your heart and hope to die. Do you solemnly swear that, in your long and hugely successful agency career, when using case histories as part of a presentation to a potential client, you have never, never revealed with some pride that the award-winning, chart-topping, bank-busting campaign you have just exposed was planned and executed in just 17 working days?
The intensely competitive nature of advertising agencies induces them, by way of an invisible conspiracy, constantly to mislead clients. Clients on the prowl are led to believe: that a single advertising idea can transform a company's fortunes within three months; that the most rigorous planning procedures can be completed over a long weekend; that products which seem to be under-performing functionally are merely suffering from reputational deficiency - a minor complaint which can easily be remedied by some new, improved communication.
That all these feats can be achieved is incontestable. What is never revealed is that they occur so infrequently that a marketing director aged 34 would need to live to 103 before being actuarially likely to encounter one.
Clients always leave it too late before deciding to review their business.
They need something new on air for that critical fourth quarter and already it's mid-July. But never mind: every agency's credentials presentation boasts at least one example of the instant miracle, so let's ask half-a-dozen of them to give it a go. And since not one of them declines the invitation to pitch: well, it can't be that unreasonable, can it?
Q: I'm the chief executive of an agency largely staffed by young trendies. A few of my bright young things are known to relax occasionally by dabbling in illegal substances, to which I turn a blind eye as long as the work gets done. However, they find it hilarious to invite me to join in and fall about when I bluster my excuses and leave - how can I improve my cred without actually partaking?
A: I have the strongest suspicion that you employ the word cred in the touching belief that its very use will improve your cred. You didn't actually use them but the sound of inverted commas was deafening. I am reminded of Mr Harold Macmillan hoping to be thought with it by using the phrase "with it with the emphasis on the it.
Like the late prime minister, you need to understand your role in life. Your role is not to be thought one of the boys by a bunch of young trendies.
They will never accept you as one of the boys and what's more it's critically important to them that they don't. As you really ought to know by now, all brand positioning is relative. How can your young trendies feel secure in their chosen position as young trendies without some flagrantly untrendy point of reference?
As chief executive, it is your responsibility to provide that point of reference; which, from the sound of things (and from your use of words such as "partaking"), you are naturally and instinctively equipped to do brilliantly.
Wear old hacking-jackets with leather patches on the elbows. Write notes on yellow legal pads with a silver propelling pencil. And when invited to dabble in dubious substances, display an other-worldly innocence. I suggest: "Thanks, chaps, but I've just had a cup of tea."
By yearning to belong to a club for which you are spectacularly unsuitable, you will incur nothing but humiliation. Instead, settle for the farthest shores of fogeyism - and bask in the pleasure that you thereby provide.
- 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.