Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a creative graduate and want to get into advertising. However, I am torn between digital and above the line. Which one will afford me more money, women and drugs?

A: How many times do I have to remind you that I've no first-hand knowledge of anything that's happened since about 1963? It's true that I used to be something of an expert on Radio Luxembourg and split runs in the Daily Sketch and that I once won a Silver Quill from The World's Press News. But I've no idea where you might get drugs. Have you tried Boots?

Q: I am a receptionist and when certain planners try to explain something such as how they would like a meeting room to be set up to me they go into such minute detail and include so many extra theories and statistical evidence that I'm left wondering: is this because they think I'm thick or is this just the planner's way?

A: Account planners come in two sizes: clarifiers and obfuscators. Clarifiers synthesise and inspire. Obfuscators take the complex and make it impenetrable.

Jon Steel once had an assistant who, when given a six-inch pile of data to summarise, would return a week later with a 12-inch digest. He went on to great things, but not with Jon.

And that's the problem. In a fearless, confident world, obfuscators would be out of work. "I don't understand a word of this, Barnaby," people would say. "You're fired." Instead, they're treated with deference. The assumption that incomprehensibility is forensic evidence of intellectual brilliance is one of the weirder symptoms of agency insecurity.

The entire future of account planning as a respected discipline rests on the slender shoulders of the clarifiers and the inspirers: they are the water diviners who bring new life to barren territory. From the sound of it, your agency houses only obfuscators. They don't think you're thick; they just want you to think that they're brilliant. And even in this, they've failed.

Come to think of it, there's a third and growing category of planner.

These are planners as lads, more creative than creative, all combat trousers and estuary English, neither worn with complete conviction. I hope you don't have to deal with many of these.

Q: My PA, who has worked for me for years and whom I've always valued, has recently had a few weeks off following a bereavement. Since her return, she has started to make some embarrassing mistakes - forgetting to put things in my diary, turning up late for work, etc etc. I don't want to upset her, but how can I let my PA know that she needs to get a grip on what she's doing?

A: What's the most important skill for anyone hoping to be good at advertising?

Of course you don't know. It's blindingly obvious from your question that you don't know. In her Reith Lecture a few years back, Professor Jean Aitchison wrote: "An effective persuader must be able to imagine events from another person's point of view." You're clearly not an effective persuader - nor even capable of the most basic empathy. Try rephrasing your question as follows: My PA, who has worked for me for years and whom I've always valued, has recently had a few weeks off following a bereavement.

Since her return, she has started to make some embarrassing mistakes - forgetting to put things in my diary, turning up late for work, etc etc.

She's obviously still deeply disturbed. What if anything can I do to help her?

There, now. I hope that makes you feel the worm you are. What did you think I'd advise you to say? "As you know perfectly well, Samantha, the agency business is a cauldron of competition, we're one of the hottest shots around and I'm the top banana. So I need total, 24/7 dedication. You've now been late for work five times and buggered up my diary on no less than seven separate occasions.

OK, so somebody died. People do. You will. But you'll be dead by the end of this week if you don't get a grip - unnerstand what I'm saying?"

Try to imagine events from your PA's point of view. Grief is inexplicable.

It can be like temporary insanity. It can derange the mind. She's not enjoying her life at the moment - and she knows as well as you do that her work's suffering. Telling her to get a grip would be as helpful as telling an alcoholic he's got a drink problem. No, much worse.

Ask her what you can do to help. Don't be surprised if she gets upset.

Listen, endlessly. Meanwhile, take some of the load off her shoulders without her noticing that you're taking some of the load off her shoulders.

Now, there's a test for you. It might even help you to be better at advertising.

- "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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