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

Q: I was one of the tide of recessionary redundancies last year ... and I'm still out of work. Should I be looking for a career outside advertising now, or do you think agency staff levels will one day return to their pre-recession levels?

A: One of the many confusing characteristics of the advertising trade is the absence of any single, distinguishing ability that marks out all its most valued practitioners. People of wildly different talents and temperaments can make a go of it; it all depends which bit of advertising you're in.

Since you haven't told me what particular function you performed until you were so miserably left stranded last year, I can't easily advise you where else you might look. But I bet you this: regardless of the economy, there will be ten times more opportunities for your particular set of skills outside the surprisingly small world of advertising than there ever will be within it. This doesn't mean you should dismiss the idea of a return to advertising; it means that you must redefine what you're good at. It's no good saying you're good at advertising. Unless you're a latter-day David Ogilvy, that's meaningless.

Are you a strategist, an inventor, an advocate, an administrator, a counsellor, an entrepreneur?

Do you do brilliant things yourself or are you brilliant at getting other people to do things? There are successful examples of all the above to be found in advertising's modest parish.

Until you know what you do best, you'll never know just how many chances there are out there for you to do it. But with Adam Crozier at the Royal Mail, Stephen Carter at Ofcom and (until recently) Charlotte Beers single-handedly responsible for making the rest of the world love America, there are grounds for cautious optimism. Please keep in touch: I wish you well.

Q: Does anyone still care about doing what we think is right creatively (and standing up for it) or are we all doing whatever we need to for a slice of the decreasing pot of money that's washing around out there?

A: We have to admit there's some pretty awful work out there.

Much of that awful work is there precisely because pig-headed agency people did stand up for it - and persuaded otherwise intelligent clients that by agreeing to pay for incomprehensible advertising they were somehow exhibiting manliness.

Look into the history of account changes and you will find that a fair proportion are triggered by painful disillusionment. A client, genuinely open to original ideas, expresses thoughtful reservations about a creative proposal. The combined persuasive power of the agency, unafraid to use implications of cowardice, finally achieves a reluctant green light - and the work runs.

The trade doesn't understand it, the workforce doesn't understand it, the chairman doesn't understand it and the consuming public treats it with comprehensive indifference. Coercion of this kind gives principled advocacy an undeservedly bad name.

Q: My wife wants to move out of London. What sort of life can a hot creative talent such as myself expect at an ad agency in the sticks (Manchester or Edinburgh, perhaps)?

A: However hot a creative talent you may claim to be, you deserve no sort of life at all while you continue to think of Manchester and Edinburgh as the sticks.

I am not motivated by political correctness; Manchester and Edinburgh need no protection from me. What I'm predicting with a surprising level of certainty is a return to reality in the advertising world which will reveal a number of London-based agencies as profligate dilettantes and a number of agencies outside London as models of conscientious craftsmanship.

Neither group can claim a monopoly of virtue or villainy. If you land a job in either Manchester or London, you should expect to learn at least as much from them as they from you. But I wouldn't bank on landing it.

- 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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