CLOSE-UP: On The Campaign Couch...with JB

I am the client of a remorselessly trendy Soho agency. On a weekly basis, I am subjected to sartorial humiliation and am made to feel provincial on account of my non-ownership of a black cashmere polo-neck. Advice please.

I am the client of a remorselessly trendy Soho agency. On a weekly basis, I am subjected to sartorial humiliation and am made to feel provincial on account of my non-ownership of a black cashmere polo-neck. Advice please.

The only serious talent possessed by trendy Soho agencies is their ability to make clients feel inferior - so it says much for your sense of self that you have so far refrained from buying a black cashmere poloneck.

You must promise me you never will. The moment your agency sees you in a black cashmere poloneck, they will despise you all the more and take to wearing dungarees with no undershirts. Who knows where it might end.

No, your correct procedure here is the traditional one; retire behind the chequebook. Remind yourself that it is your money, your product, your advertising. Stop being grateful to these primping dilettantes. Turn down their advertising - not because it's incomprehensible (which it probably is) but because it's boring and derivative. Then turn it down again and again. Behave with manic inconsistency in your judgments. Get them jumpy.

Then arrange to be seen with an even more trendy agency in Soho House.

Continue to wear a collar and tie and black lace-up shoes. Because the crucial point you have forgotten is this: it is only incumbent clients that agencies enjoy humiliating; potential clients are invariably fun, fascinating and treated with a skillful emulsion of flattery and deference.

PS. I'm told that trendy is no longer a very trendy word. So you're absolutely right to go on using it.

I am the chief executive of a large advertising agency and one of my major clients is making overtures to hire me. What should I do?

You must immediately instigate a personal audit of a ruthlessly self-critical nature. Most of us are prepared to admit, if only to ourselves, that much of what we like to call our career has been a precarious exercise in getting away with it. (Indeed, most businessmen's autobiographies, were they half-way honest, would actually be entitled 'Getting Away With It'.)

What you need to do now is work out whether you are more or less likely to continue getting away with it in your present position or on the client side.

Actually, your agency prospects don't look good. You've already got to the top and you must still be quite young or your client wouldn't be offering you a job. How many of your existing clients are expressing dissatisfaction?

How many are threatening to review their account? Where did you come in last year's new-business table? How seriously is your wife opposed to living in Chicago?

Against this, a client company - assuming at least as many bricks as clicks - could offer you enviable security. But be careful: don't accept a job that measures you by normal business standards - that could be risky.

Take it only if they want you for your consumer insights and communications skills (I know, I know, but all things are relative).

If you're really lucky, your prospective company will be in the financial services sector where a smattering of advertising experience and a few words such as holistic have kept far stupider people than you safely shielded from competitive assessment well into the autumn of their lives.

PS. If you find this prospect too horrifying to contemplate, tell your client that, selfishly, you'd jump at the chance; but your wife has suggested that you might be of greater value to his business where you are. And, sadly, of course, she's right.

Jeremy Bullmore 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. Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director of Guardian Media Group and of WPP, and the president of NABS.


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