Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm really keen to go part-time or at least to negotiate some kind of flexible working hours but I am worried that my bosses will see it as a sign that I'm not serious about my career. How should I go about getting the work-life balance I need without compromising my position in the company?

A: Whenever this question gets raised, bosses come out badly. I don't suppose they mind that much; and anyway, bosses - assuming they deserve to be bosses - should be more than capable of looking after themselves. But it troubles me that the lowly employees seem to get all the sympathy.

The perfect work-life balance is not an impossible dream. It can be achieved quite easily by following these guidelines. First, obtain a position in a company, which is not in the competitive service sector and offers no exhilarating highs or melancholic lows. Then ensure that your own contribution to this company is so negligible that it doesn't matter a fig if you turn up or not. You'll never feel guilty about being at home when you should be at work, or about being at work when you should be at home. That's because nobody notices.

If, on the other hand, you're lucky enough to work in advertising or marketing, and if you're also lucky enough to be talented enough to be of clear personal value to your company, then you can't expect a pain-free work-life balance to be part of your terms of employment.

Your boss is given ten days to come up with a new creative strategy by your most profitable client. Its loss would mean a payroll cull. Your boss believes your planning skills could make a critical contribution to the weekend meeting he's wisely decided to call. And you remind him that you've already served the number of days you're contractually committed to for that month. I know you promised to take the kids to see their grandparents; but even so, I have to say, and not without some anguish, that my sympathies are with your boss.

In our type of trade, achieving a tolerable work-life balance can never be achieved by treaty. It demands daily juggling, compromise, treats, compensations, wit, the occasional prevarication - and a high degree of understanding from both ends of the seesaw.

Q: Jeremy, what's your view on product placement? Personally, I quite like the idea of getting a few of my brands in the shop on Coronation Street but I'm a bit confused as to whether this has any inherent value. I mean, I'm sure that there are all sorts of brands already shown there but I've never noticed them, so wonder whether you thought that product placement added any extra media value?

A: I'm interested that your doubts about product placement centre entirely on its value to the client. Mine, more prissily, centre on its honesty.

One of the many things I like about ordinary ads is their barefaced cheek.

"I'm an advert," they proclaim. "I've paid for this opportunity and my open intention is to get you to do something that's in my interest. Now that you know the rules, let persuasion begin."

People don't know the rules about product placement. Most people don't even know it exists. Its defenders say this doesn't matter; that the efficacy of product placement is in no way dependent on consumer ignorance (so why, I wonder, do they rabbit on about "coming in under the radar?").

But on the assumption that the marketing attraction of product placement in no way relies on its subcutaneous character, no-one could sensibly object to my modest proposal. All that is necessary is for films and television programmes to carry a statement - in the opening credits and for an agreed length of time - along the following lines: "Anglo-Galvanized Inc, makers of the featured Turbo JetBoards(TM), paid $15 million towards the cost of this production."

If this requirement deterred marketing companies from future investment in product placement, that in itself would be revealing. If it didn't, who could possibly be opposed to it?

However, you were asking about value. There is a company in the US that claims to measure the ROI of product placement. It logs the number of seconds of screen exposure and multiplies it by a secret formula. The counting of column centimetres seems sophisticated in comparison.

When does one become important enough at an ad agency to get one's own subscription to Campaign?

As soon as one stops referring to oneself as one and then makes oneself indispensable.

- "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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