Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

John Billett writes: All the male judges in the Campaign Press Awards photo were wearing jeans. Is such clothing a significant ingredient for creative success?

Dear JB. Funny old phrase, "significant ingredient" - more true, perhaps, of Angostura bitters and Champagne cocktails. But I know what you mean and thank you for the question.

Ronnie Kirkwood was once a distinguished President of the Advertising Creative Circle. For the annual photograph of Circle members, Ronnie commanded us all to wear dark suits. We obeyed, turned up, arranged ourselves in tidy ranks, left a space for our leader in the centre of the front row and awaited his arrival. With customary grace, Ronnie entered. To absolutely no one's surprise, his suit was white.

Doctors wear white coats and stethoscopes. Artists used to wear berets.

Judges still wear wigs. People of achievement frequently feel cheated that their achievements are not visibly apparent. A friend of mine once left a business meeting, having forgotten to remove his lapel badge. It read: Denis Lanigan, Managing Director. Half-way down Berkeley Square he was stopped by a stranger who shook him warmly by the hand and exclaimed: "Congratulations!"

Clothes are proxy lapel badges - but with added modesty. It's no accident that suits were first called suits by creative people. Creative people remain very anxious indeed not to be thought suits. They're also anxious to be thought creative. Suits, of course, much dislike being called suits and now seldom wear them. But as Ronnie Kirkwood astutely recognised all those years ago - and Robin Wight more recently - even a suit can be creative if it's different from everyone else's.

The Campaign Press Awards judges seem not to have stumbled on this simple truth. Their herd-like devotion to denim signals the opposite of originality.

I wonder what they'll all be wearing next year?

Q: I graduated last summer with a degree in art history. I'm now attempting to get into advertising and have spent months filling in applications and phoning agencies. This week an e-mail requesting work experience was answered: "Do you have any pictures?" (Nothing else in the message.) I have been asked to attach pictures to application forms before; however, I don't think that in this circumstance it is professional practice. Or is it? Am I being overly suspicious or do you think I am justified in objecting. Perhaps I should send a fingerprint?

A: If you get a bit of work experience at least partly on appearance, isn't that better than not getting work experience? If you were consistent in your suspicions, you'd insist on attending interviews with a bag over your head. Send them a snap or two immediately.

Q: Why do so many agencies sell themselves on "passion for creativity", when the truth is that clients would prefer to invest their money in "passion for selling the product"?

A: Here we go again. Creativity and effectiveness are not alternatives.

Neither are they competitors, nor synonyms nor antonyms. In advertising, the one is the means to the other. Think of a joke and then think of laughter.

It requires talent and originality to think of a joke and to tell it well.

But a joke is not an end in itself: it's designed to achieve something called laughter. So you'll only know for certain if your joke was a good one if and when people laugh. And the longer (time) and the louder (decibel strength) they laugh, the better the joke. The thing is measurable. Evaluating creativity in advertising while ignoring its effect is like holding an awards evening for jokes in the absence of an audience.

Q: I've recently graduated and started my first job at an agency and, although I love my job, I'm very uncomfortable with the way the CEO treats the young women that work for him. Backside-slapping and personal comments about people's appearance just seem to be normal practice for him and although I've managed to avoid his unwelcome attentions so far, I've started to notice a glint in his eye when he looks at me. I really like the work I'm doing and the people I work with, but other than leaving (or dressing in my gran's outfits), what can I do?

A: The unfair truth about all this is that anything you do to signal Keep Off the Grass will seem either prissy or prudish.

All I can suggest is that you - and as many other of his prey as you can enlist - stick huge photographs of John Prescott over your work stations. If the symptoms persist, add one of Max Clifford.

- "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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