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

Q: I run one of the world's best creative agencies. Another agency, in an attempt to relaunch, has been throwing money at many of my staff and has successfully poached five of them. Is it better to act with dignity and wish them well, or should I get legal?

A: Let's forget the dignity bit for a moment. Captains have been known to be still saluting as their ships are swallowed up by Arctic waters. Dignity is no compensation for failure, though it can be an extremely gratifying companion to success.

I imagine you want your agency to continue to be one of the world's best.

If so, you must continue to earn the admiration of, and inspire loyalty from, that small pool of talented people on whom your success depends.

True loyalty, like true love, involves the irrational. People who remain with you because of fireproof contracts or tantalising share options are bound to you not by loyalty but by handcuffs. Acquire a reputation for suing those who want to leave and you'll soon find it impossible to hire equivalent replacements except at premium rates.

To attract your five talents, this relaunch agency has had to use crude cash in lieu of reputation. It will not have learnt how to inspire irrational loyalty. Before 18 months are up, three of your five will be praying for you to call.

So wish them well; give them a warm-hearted leaving party (it will cost a lot less than legal fees); book them in for lunch at some distant but definite date; and wait for virtue to be rewarded.

Q: I was tickled by your recent letter: "Four years in advertising and I am absolutely knackered." After 40 years, I'm knackered, too. At 58, I'm still an account director in a small agency.

What used to be a lot of fun is now a daily grind. As I get older I get more impatient with clients who get younger and younger every day. What's more - they make the same mistakes that their predecessors made ten, 20, 30 years ago. Their enthusiasm for their humdrum products and general earnestness really gets up my nose.

I have never had more than two weeks' holiday in one go in my life and I'd like to take a year off too. Trouble is I can't afford to, and I'd almost certainly not get a job when I got back. Any advice?

A: The give-away word is humdrum. Advertising is no place for people who find products humdrum and enthusiasm offensive. I'm sure at heart you know this already: you've got to get out. Think of teaching, of trade bodies; of recapturing enjoyment and self-respect. Please don't wait too long.

Q: I want to launch an agency and am in the process of picking my partners. Is there such thing as an optimum number of founders?

A: You should pick one, and no more than one, from each important craft skill. In other words, you and your founding partners should represent the ideal account group.

So there should be an acknowledged master of account handling; a planner of repute; and a creative person with a gong or two. Proportional representation is essential. If you omit a creative partner altogether, even if you hedge your bets by having three creative sub-partners, you'll be branded uncreative for all time.

Choice by temperament is at least as important as by discipline. One prima donna is an advantage and will attract valuable media attention. Two prima donnas will cancel each other out and three will ensure total disintegration soon after lift-off.

One of your founding partners must be so conscientious, so tolerant and so self-effacing that the outside world will never have heard of them. Until you have identified such a person, postpone your launch indefinitely.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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