Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm an MD in an agency, and have been for about a year. I now deal with a lot more of our European and global bosses and have recently realised that when they get to a certain seniority level they start to pronounce Ts as Ds. So everything is gread and inderesding and people become brilliand or dwads. To work my way up the career ladder, do I need to sdard pracdicing?

A: What an elegant slice of observation. Now you come to mention it, I can hear them all. I wonder why they do it. Have you any idea?

But if I were you, I wouldn't bother to pracdice. I've been vastly amused, over the years, to watch nakedly ambitious ladder-climbers aping their elders.

There was once a CEO who took to wearing three-piece suits: jacket, pants and vest (for he was no Brit). The sale of three-piece suits from Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers rocketed immediately. Every male on the management floor, and most on the many account management floors, suddenly took to wearing a waistcoat. Some even sported the watch chain across the midriff. They also wore their hair short, drank mineral water and took tennis lessons. When the CEO eventually came to choose his Number Two, the man he picked wore seersucker suits and scuffed loafers and drank Jack Daniels.

Those who ape their elders forget three things. First, today's CEO is tomorrow's has-been. Second, for obvious reasons, CEOs never choose successors in their own image: no-one could possibly be as good as they are at being them. And finally, apers are self-evidently absurd.

So enjoy the Ds but stick with your Ts. If you continue to be as perceptive, they'll all be aping you soon.

Q: I'm a client and just can't help mandating executional details to my agency. Should I step back and only give strategic feedback where it's due or should I be fussing over the detail? My agency assures me that they are the experts in execution and I should trust them more. What do you think?

A: There's something about the phrase "mandating executional details" that leads me to suspect executional details are the last thing you should be mandating to your agency.

If you and your agency shared a clear understanding of your brand's character, you would know that executional details don't exist. The choice of typeface, voiceover, backing track, hairstyle: these aren't discrete decisions of detail, dictated by fashion or individual whim. They either contribute to the brand, in which case they're good; or they don't, in which case they aren't. There shouldn't be much room for discussion, let alone any mandating. I expect you would mandate your agency to change the VW typeface.

Of course, if you and your agency don't have a shared understanding of your brand's character, then you have a serious problem. No amount of mandating is going to help you and I very much doubt if strategic feedback will either. (What is that, exactly? It sounds painful.)

Q: I think I'm a creative in an account man's body. However, I can't persuade our creative director to let me have a crack. He says I won't be taken seriously either by the creative department or the account people. Is there anything I can do to make him think again?

A: I expect you know all about blind vs named product tests? A large sample of real people is invited to compare two anonymous plates of cornflakes, A and B. Fifty-three per cent prefer plate A, 47 per cent prefer plate B. Another sample of real people, meticulously matched, is then invited to compare the same two plates of cornflakes, although this time they're identified: plate A is Kellogg's and plate B Kwik-Save. Seventy-eight per cent now prefer plate A, 22 per cent plate B. The only variable, as we say in the research industry, is knowledge of the name.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that exactly the same phenomenon applies to creative work. Work presented by a heavily tattooed man wearing a black vest and earrings, irrespective of intrinsic merit, will be received with respect. Your work, irrespective of intrinsic merit, will be received, at best, with an infuriating condescension. Your creative director is right.

Advertising agencies are full of creative people who aren't in the creative department. Quite a lot of clients are creative - and quite a lot of creative people aren't. But as with cornflakes, it's the packaging that makes the difference.

The late and wonderful Ronnie Barker, when known only as an actor, got into writing by submitting scripts under a pseudonym. Perhaps you should do the same. Either that or buy a black vest.

- "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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