A: How old are you? I ask because you will have to wait until 2007 before agency chief executives and creative recruitment companies return to their senses and evaluate candidates on the basis of talent rather than nationality alone. (The more mature among us can remember when only American citizens were eligible for top creative spots in the UK.) However, the current predilection for Australian creative directors is well earned - and owes much to their unashamed pleasure in selling loads of stuff to loads of people with loads of well-directed imagination. Try it some time. Alternatively, logic suggests that there must be a great many senior opportunities opening up in Australia ...
Q: I'm in charge of a large marketing budget and deal with several above- and below-the-line agencies. On the whole, I have a good relationship with these outfits. However, I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the lead agency as it seems determined to go over my head and deal directly with my chief executive. He doesn't seem to mind, but I feel that the situation is undermining my position. As the agency in question is still producing very good work, is it worth making an issue of it?
A: I've met your chief executive. He's extremely vain. Though he relishes the rewards that come with his position, he's inwardly ashamed of having put his second-class arts degree to no greater purpose than the selling of toothpaste. He has a house in SW1 and invites Melvyn Bragg and ballerinas to his dinner parties. He never invites you.
Your lead agency knows all this, too. Their chief executive is a witty, engaging fellow with a wide range of slightly raffish but highly entertaining friends from the arts, media and politics. Your chief executive slips off his tie and enjoys their company a great deal. Sometimes he makes self-deprecating jokes about toothpaste. More than anything, he dreams of a knighthood. He knows that only a knighthood, socially speaking, will finally allow him to shrug off the toothpaste stigma and face his Oxbridge contemporaries on equal terms.
I can quite understand your pique at your agency's habit of going over your head but on no account must you make an issue of it. Your boss needs his cultural fix; he likes to believe that his artistic bent makes him a more sympathetic arbiter of creative communications (he seldom uses the word advertising) than the numbers-driven non-commissioned officers from his marketing department. Your agency indulges him.
The work remains very good - so you should adopt an attitude of amused tolerance. Feel entitled, if it helps, to warm yourself with an inner sense of superiority: you are, after all, greatly superior to your superior. And if he has the barest smidgen of intelligence, your lead agency's chief executive will also know this to be true and will keep on excellent terms with both of you.
Q: I've read recently about some clients that have appointed agencies based on chemistry meetings, without any work being presented and without the usual researching of pitch ideas. This seems to me to be quite a risk, but I'm just about to review my ad account. Should I consider this sort of "chemistry" approach?
A: Why are you reviewing your ad account? I bet it's because of chemistry. I bet you just don't enjoy going into the agency any more. And I bet you've rationalised this fact and convinced yourself that nine years is long enough and anyway their last three commercials didn't beat your norms.
If chemistry is a good enough reason for divorce, I don't see why it shouldn't be good enough for marriage. But make sure you sleep together first and have a long enough engagement to find out if you really, really love each other. You should also engineer at least one blazing row.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.