Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I am the head of programming at a major TV network. We've managed to increase our audience share over the past two years, but have achieved this on the back of reality TV shows. Although their popularity is starting to wane, they still pull big audiences. When's the right time to ditch them?

A: If a top neurosurgeon wrote to me for advice on how to perform a frontal lobotomy, I would probably wonder whether he was up to his job. I hope you see the point I'm making. Somebody must have appointed you as head of programming in the belief that, if anyone would know when it was the right time to ditch reality programmes, it was you. Personally, I'd feel more confident advising the neurosurgeon; but since you ask ...

What you should do is forget that reality programmes are called reality programmes and undertake an autopsy while the patient is still just living.

What is the anatomy of reality programmes and why did they (do they) appeal? Identify the ingredients, then label them carefully. Tip them out into a well-greased pudding basin, give them a good stir, cook for three hours, and you'll find you have an entirely different format with exactly the same original appeal.

The important thing to remember is that, all over the world, for generations, children have been brought up singing Ten Green Bottles and playing Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs: or whatever their equivalents are in Bolivia.

Sociologists have found it is this early and intense exposure to a culture of serial ejection that explains the adult population's addiction to reality TV. So as long as you maintain the central element of humiliating rejection, ideally with ever-harsher penalties, reality programmes will prosper.

For example, just off the top of my head, a show featuring 20 teenagers on a small boat in shark-infested waters could be very popular. You might like to call it Your Turn to Walk!. Or perhaps just Plank!.

Q: My chief executive, to use his own bloody annoying phrase, has cancelled "shore leave" (holidays to the rest of us) because we've got three massive pitches on. I am now faced with cancelling a fortnight with the family in France. Is his demand strictly legal?

A: I can't make out if you're more irritated by your chief executive's mock naval vocabulary or by his buggering up your holiday plans. I hope it's the former.

The ad recession hasn't been over that long. Have you forgotten already?

And anyway, there'll be another one along in a couple of years. If you're employed by an agency good enough to qualify for three massive pitches over the course of just a few months, you're a very, very fortunate little adperson indeed.

Furthermore (and another thing): most of your contemporaries are doing the most mind-numbing, repetitive, predictable jobs - as bankers, estate agents, insurance salesmen and loss adjusters. Their holiday roster for 2006 is already in place on the central HR database. Within 18 months, they will be eligible for possible promotion from Grade III (b) to Grade II (c), which would carry a pre-determined increase in their stipend.

The most exciting thing that happened to them last year was coming second in the interdepartmental pub quiz.

I know it's rough on the family but you should have the wit and the wherewithal to make it up to them somehow. You're extremely fortunate to be in a job that values you enough to need you for new-business pitches, that pays you on merit rather than by grades, and that offers you infinite variety in exchange for the occasional breathless insecurity. You can't have all that and Luncheon Vouchers, too. It's not allowed.

Q: Despite having what I believed to be a good relationship with Campaign, I appeared in their Book of Lists last year in a not so favourable light. Should I try to repair what I now see to be quite a rift or should I let it lie?

A: I very much doubt if you are as important a person in the life of Campaign as Campaign appears to be in yours. Should this be the case, the spectacle of you manically attempting to repair a rift of which Campaign is ignorant is unlikely to improve your standing with them.

Why don't you just start your own agency, win accounts worth £200 million (including British Airways and Guinness), persuade John Hegarty to join you as one of your two creative directors, win four gold Lions and buy Wieden & Kennedy?

For all its air of sophistication, Campaign is easily impressed by little things like this. Next time the Book of Lists comes out, I bet you'll be up there with the best of them. Not that you'll care by then, of course.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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