Q: I am a commercials director. I made a lot of money in the
eighties and nineties creating very stylish, expensive images with lots
of special effects. Now nobody wants me or my enormous style anymore.
They all want hideously-lit scenes of two badly-dressed proles in a
kitchen eating noodles. Should I change my name to something Swedish,
fire my cameraman and buy a camcorder?
No. Long before you make a name for yourself as Europe's premiere noodle
director, badly-lit noodle eating will have gone out of fashion. Imagine
the embarrassment of trailing your reel of hundreds of hours of
badly-dressed proles eating badly-lit noodles round hundreds of
contemptuous agency producers, all of whom are now mindlessly in love
with a technique called Kiotan Zincography; which they adore as it
imposes on even the crassest of scripts a fine top-dressing of eastern
incomprehensibility. (The first three commercials to use KZ all got into
The Book, and one of them was for Toilet Duck).
What you should do is not follow but lead. You must anticipate the next
craze; and if you like, I'll tell you what it will be. There will be a
return to sincerity, post-post-modern, right through ironic
self-referential and out the other side - into the cool, green pastures
of childlike innocence and unselfconscious advocacy.
As with all portrayed sincerity, it will demand contrivance of the
highest order to achieve. And if you are who I think you are, there's
not the slightest chance that you'll be able to achieve it.
Instead, I suggest you put your earlier experience to good use by
offering to audit other directors' production estimates for clients,
charging a percentage of everything you save. It's a sort of living -
and you can hardly be more friendless than you are now.
Q: We have been asked to work on a great piece of entertainment business
without a pitch. The only problem is that the client has also retained a
burnout from the advertising industry as a marketing consultant. This
individual never rose far enough to head an agency; co-wrote a
deservedly unread book on marketing strategy; has a wife who has done
much better than him; and still has an inflated impression of his own
self-worth. He is making life very difficult for us. The marketing plan
he has written is O-level stuff and he vetos any suggestion that we
make. What should we do?
I think I know the man you mean. If I'm right, his dominant
characteristic is an unlimited capacity for self-deception. And when I
say unlimited, I mean unlimited. It is impossible to overestimate this
person's uncritical adulation of self. Irony, sycophancy, flattery and
obsequiousness go undetected; indeed, are serenely accepted as just and
objective appraisal. And in that fact lies the seeds of your
Do not take issue with his O-level marketing plan; instead, praise it
with shameless extravagance, praise it repeatedly, by phone, fax and
e-mail - and always with open copies to your client.
Describe it as the all-important catalyst, the grit in the oyster, the
inspirational insight that liberated the imaginations of your creative
people. Then do exactly what you wanted to do all along, making sure
that your recommendations contain at least six of the words used by the
consultant in his marketing plan.
If your work is good, the client will be delighted and the consultant
smug. But remember the words of Harry Truman: 'You can accomplish
anything you want in life, provided you don't mind who gets the
Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director
of Guardian Media Group and of WPP, and the president of NABS. He writes
a monthly column for Management Today. A more serious look at problems
in the workplace, it both inspired and complements On the Campaign
Couch. Address your problems to him at Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Road,
London W6 7JP. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.