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

Richard Alford writes: My agency recently awarded me a big-sounding title. The only snag is it starts with the word "deputy" followed by the words "managing director". Should I accept it, or is it just part of the "title inflation" that agencies use to flatter staff into submission. Also, can you give me some clue as to what the role of a deputy managing director might be, since deputising for the MD is only necessary about twice a year.

A: In a futile attempt to stem the proliferation of directors, I was once misguided enough to introduce an intermediate category between associate directors and directors. We called them senior associate directors - and deeply sad they turned out to be. The rank was swiftly identified as no more than a siding, on to which worthy but futureless persons could be shunted, while the bright and the brash streaked past on the fast track.

The lesson was not a new one. If a company of 500 has a main board of ten, those ten directors will command respect. If a company of 500 has a main board of 100, you may divide the respect that each commands by ten. Only their parents, unaware of the existence of the other 99, will be beguiled.

Titles are valued not by the rank they carry but by the number and ability of those that hold them.

So I hope you're not one of seven deputy managing directors. Even one may be too many; making more than one achieves the remarkable result of leaving the promoted individual diminished in status.

Ignore the word deputy. You will rarely be expected to deputise. You should also ignore John Prescott, an unhelpful role model. The managing director bit, however, is valuable. It licenses you to speak not just for your own accounts or your own department but for the whole agency. Or rather, it should. If it doesn't, ditch it.

Q: An anonymous new-business director writes: We're half way through a major pitch and I've just found out from the client we're up against 13 other agencies. Normally we'd decline the invitation (for all the obvious reasons) but it's too late. The team are presenting in two weeks' time and we've already spent the pitch budget. Do I come clean, tell everyone now and suffer the humiliation and recriminations? Or do I do nothing and pray it never gets out? If our MD finds out he'll go berserk. Help!

A: No amount of prayer, however powerful, will prevent this news from becoming known. When the winner is eventually announced, there will be 12 other agencies feeling like you. There will be 14 all-staff e-mails to be despatched.

One of those 14 will come from the victor. If by some improbable roll of the dice you were yourself the victor, do you seriously believe you could resist a gloat? "We not only won this fantastic piece of business with a guaranteed budget of several billion potatoes, but we won it in open competition with 13 other agencies!"

And you'd probably want to name them. Wouldn't you?

No, dumbcluck: you must work with the certain knowledge that this truth will out. Damage limitation must be your only aim.

Write a letter (yes, an old-fashioned letter) to your MD, dated today. Tell him what you've told me. Tell him that you were devastated by your discovery, agonised over a decision, but came to the conclusion that to break the news with the budget spent and just two weeks away from the final pitch would have been the worst of all possible courses of action for everybody concerned. Offer to tender your resignation.

Give this letter to his PA: marked Not To Be Opened Until After The Anglo-Galvanized Presentation.

Even with a 13-1 against chance of victory, he's unlikely to go berserk immediately. I mean, you just never know in this business, do you ...?

- 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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