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

Q: I have to deal with several layers of clients, who are very decent people. However, it is difficult to get buy-in from them all, as they don't agree with each other (and mostly don't even like each other). Plus they are rarely in the same room at the same time. We know that disregarding the junior members of the team is foolish but the senior person is, not surprisingly, the decision-maker and usually right. What should we do?

A: How is it, I wonder, that all these decent people don't like each other much? Decent people usually rub along pretty well with other people, particularly if they're also decent. However, I'll take your word for it - and indeed hope you're right because your clients' distaste for each other offers you your best chance to cope with this most ancient of agency predicaments.

It requires, I'm sorry to have to tell you, an element of deceit. But since the outcome will be better work, I hope that both you and the Almighty will be prepared to forgive some temporary disregard for morality.

The key to the solution of this problem lies in its own origins: the existence of layers. The only way to deal with layers is to match them.

Creative people often wonder why the standard ratio of suits to copywriters is 8:1. The existence of client layers and the agency need to match them is the explanation.

Do not, however, fall into the common trap of simply matching your senior layer against their senior layer - and so on throughout the entire Battenberg cake. What you must do is deploy your senior layer (viz. you) not only against their senior layer but also against their most junior layer.

Junior clients are so accustomed to being treated contemptuously by senior agency persons that, if listened to deferentially and taken to lunch at The Ivy, they become putty in your hands. Confide in them the difficulties you face. While never overtly critical of their superiors, imply that they, the junior layer, are far more intuitively in touch with the target group and therefore far more valuable as judges of creative work. Invite them to join you, high-altitude agency person that you are, in a benign conspiracy to create a Machiavellian approval system for the mould-breaking, career-boosting work of which your team will now be capable.

Flushed and flattered, they will at once agree. They may also fall in love with you.

Simultaneously, confide to your most senior client that, as a way of ensuring that all the best work reaches his desk without let, hindrance or callow compromise, you have involved his juniors in a benign conspiracy; the objective of which (nudge nudge wink wink) is to help them acquire the sensitivity and judgment so gratifyingly evident in their more experienced superiors.

Note that you will have told both groups nothing but the truth. You will have simply confirmed both parties in their mutual doubts and enlisted their willing complicity in outwitting each other. Everybody wins - but most of all the work.

Q: We've just had a campaign idea bounced by a relatively junior brand manager. He refuses to have it presented to his immediate boss. Just how wrong is it for someone with a couple of years in the business to be making such important creative judgments?

A: It's perfectly clear that you have matched this relatively junior brand manager with your relatively junior account person. See above; and book a table for two at The Ivy without delay.

Q: I have been chosen as a Campaign Face to Watch. How do I avoid oblivion like all previous Faces to Watch?

A: I don't think that you're being absolutely fair about this.

I mean, quite a lot of Faces to Watch have gone on to be really quite famous. (Run out of room, I'm afraid, otherwise I'd list some of them ...)

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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