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

Q: I was recently the chairman of a prominent awards jury. A campaign from my agency was included on the long list for the top award, and I found myself unable to hide my vitriol for one of its rivals. Was this totally out of order, or a commendable show of bias towards my team's great work?

A: It was neither. It was dumb.

There you are, presumably a senior figure in the persuasion business, and still breathtakingly ignorant about the nature of persuasion.

Here is the First Law of Communication. On being presented with an argument, it is the immediate instinct of every recipient to challenge its veracity: both its inherent truth and the integrity of its source. This Law pre-dates Alastair Campbell by several centuries, though he has done much to confirm its validity.

Now examine your own intervention.

You are the chairman - responsible for the preservation of impartiality and justice. Your agency is known to have a campaign in the long list.

Then, viciously, you slag off one of its rivals.

Now that you know about The First Law of Communication, how do you think your fellow jury members will respond?

One, they look with new favour on the campaign you so despise. Two, they determine that under no circumstances will your own agency's entry receive a single vote.

And three, they conclude that you're not only unfit to be their chairman but are also breathtakingly ignorant about the nature of persuasion.

Well done, indeed.

Q: I am a client with a multimillion-pound budget burning a hole in my pocket. I'm nearing the end of my pitch and I want to appoint agency x. When visiting the agency recently on a Friday night, I distinctly heard one of the late-night workers crow that he had been given £100 cash to stay an extra hour and "look busy". How should I let the agency know I know? And should they still get the business?

A: I can tell you've never worked in an advertising agency.

If the world were a sane and adult place, advertising agencies would strive to do good work; would market themselves with thoughtful published pieces on cognitive dissonance and low involvement processing; and would in time be appointed by new clients on the basis of their work for others, their strength in depth and the congeniality of their people.

Since the short but hectic life of Allen Brady & Marsh, however, gimmickry has become a given in the headless pursuit of new business. The most sober and institutionalised of agencies now presents its leave-behinds in the form of the Bayeux Tapestry and dresses its bewildered receptionists as Land Girls.

Clients, naturally, are unmoved by such antics. We know this because they say so. Nevertheless, they continue to employ the agencies that indulge in them.

The agency you favour was guilty of nothing more serious than wanting your business so much that they were determined to leave nothing to chance.

By all means let them know you saw through their feeble little ruse - but of course they should still get your business.

Q: I have been made redundant from a senior role at a leading London agency. My departure was covered in Campaign but following legal advice I didn't call to contribute to the story. Much to my annoyance, it appears my former employers were less cautious and an untrue spin has been put on my departure. Should I ring Campaign and fill them in on the truth (plus a few other titbits I could throw in for good measure)?

A: For the sake of your family, I expect you will wish to seem attractive to other agencies? Releasing scandalous titbits about your previous agency to Campaign is no way to make yourself attractive to other agencies. And remember that other agencies won't believe your previous agency's version anyway: see The First Law of Communication above.

- 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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