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

Q: I have been advised to always behave as if I were still in my probationary period, even though I am technically past that point. I continue to do this, but it would appear that it's not getting me anywhere in my career at this agency. Perhaps I ought to simply sit back and relax?

A: Has anyone told you officially that you've passed your probationary milestone - or have you been too timid to enquire?

If so, I wouldn't blame you. Why ask questions that might provoke unpalatable answers? My own probationary period (six months as a trainee copywriter) was technically up on 25 March 1955 but I've yet to be notified and I've never liked to ask. So far so good, I tell myself.

The only problem with the inactivity option is the risk of being permanently branded lowly. However talented, secretaries who become copywriters or account managers have a terrible time shedding this stigma.

We're all guilty. The world is full of former graduate trainees who are now Worldwide Integrated Chief Executive Officers and Global Business Unit Presidents - but somewhere in my head they remain frozen as graduate trainees and I patronise them terribly.

If you're to avoid being a permanent probationer, you need something to happen: a very public promotion or a spectacular new-business coup. Alternatively, you should arrange to be offered twice as much money to go to another agency. It is a known fact that managers appreciate the value of their trainees only when a competitor tries to poach them.

This ruse is even more successful when the offer is a real one.

Q: I'm a creative on placement and I'm trying to get noticed by the creative director. He's the captain of the softball team. I was thinking about going along, then cornering him in the pub afterwards with my book. Problem is I have the sporting prowess of Ann Widdecombe.

A: The most valuable talent a creative person can acquire is the ability to see things through the eyes of others. So start practising.

You are the creative director. You have finished a hard game of softball and you retire, exhausted, to the pub. There you are cornered by an unathletic teenager with a book of derivative advertisements.

You vow never again to accept people on placement.

OK?

All you have to do is produce an absolutely fantastic idea on the eve of this year's most important new-business pitch.

Q: At what point in one's career do you think it's possible to get ahead in advertising without having to be nice to people you really don't like?

A: The Germans have a word for a certain type of deeply unpleasant executive. Because they nod upwards and kick downwards, they are called bicyclists.

The higher they get in the hierarchy, the fewer they have to nod to and the more they are able to kick. When they're spectacularly successful, they can kick everybody and don't have to nod to anyone. That's when the entire world knows they're bastards.

If that's your own ambition, then you shouldn't be in advertising. If you're an account person, you will always have to be nice to clients. Since clients are invariably nice people, this will cause you no problems.

(Clients are nice by virtue of being clients; once clients stop being clients you will be startled to discover just how quickly they can stop being nice.)

But you will also have to be nice to copywriters, executive creative directors, procurement officials and your holding company's chief financial officer. While these people are also often nice, they are not as reliably nice as clients are.

So if I were you, I'd go on being nice to just about everyone. It can be quite exhausting having to remember who you like and who you don't; and quite confusing when they change roles. Just don't take it out on the cat, that's all.

- 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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