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

Q: I'm swanning off to Oz for an extended Christmas holiday ... leaving an already overworked team to run the show in my absence. How do I stop feeling guilty?

A: Very easily. Just remember what an exceptional chief executive you are.

You have built an immensely strong team around you. You have hired such outstanding people that they now enjoy as much respect from staff and clients as you enjoy yourself. You have obeyed every management manual and implemented a meticulous succession plan. You have the confidence to make space for middle management, so that their potential is tested, stretched and then gloriously proven. Indeed (as you'll now remember), your decision to prise yourself away from the office for such an extended and crucial period was entirely motivated by your selfless determination to give your underlings a heady taste of power and responsibility.

So your show, as you call it, is in excellent hands: it will run at least as smoothly in your absence as it does with you at the helm. On your return in the new year, tanned and carefree, you may expect to find contented clients, deeply fulfilled deputies and three substantial chunks of new business.

By now, your sense of guilt will have been completely expunged - to have been replaced, of course, by an overpowering sense of apprehension. So should you wish to revert to your earlier angst, simply rewind the above sequence. Absentee chief executives cannot expect to escape both apprehension and guilt.

Q: Why do clients always pitch their business just before Christmas for a first week in January presentation? Don't you think the ad industry should unite to stop such bad practice?

A: Nothing delights me more than the thought that the ad industry might actually unite about anything. On a ten-point scale, please mark the following scenario for credibility.

On 1 December, a major national retailer, with an earmarked advertising budget of £63 million, invites seven agencies to present for their business in five weeks' time.

Outraged, all seven contact the IPA; who, after an emergency council meeting, inform the retailer that, given the season, none of their members is prepared to submit to such intolerable conditions.

When this news appears in the trade press, not one single agency in the whole of the United Kingdom (even those who will soon have to make one-third of their staff redundant) breaks rank. Humbled and apologetic, the retailer agrees to extend its presentation deadline until mid-March.

Credibility score?

The advertising business is a very fragmented business. No single agency has ever enjoyed more than 5 per cent of its market. Competition between agencies is relentless and frequently mindless. Clients, entirely sensibly, take advantage of this fact. And personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I am a creative director from the Southern Hemisphere. When I'm used to being on holiday (mid-December to early Jan), everyone in the UK works like mad. When I'm used to working (June and July), everyone in the UK decides not to. Any advice for resetting my work clock?

A: Rather than trying to reset your work clock, you should make the most of your accidental non-conformity. As a creative director, you'll be acutely aware of the old dilemma: should you go on doing some ads yourself, and so infuriate your creative teams; or restrict yourself to distant counselling, and so fail to lead by example?

In your case, you can do the ads in the summer when everyone else is away; and employ majestic delegation in the winter when you are away.

Don't overdo the delegation, though. See Q1, 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. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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