A: You are a brand. (If you aren't, you should be.) Like it or not, your PA is an important part of your packaging. So your choice should be dictated not by mundane considerations of candidates' efficiency or aesthetic appeal; you must ask yourself, what is my desired brand personality?
Do you wish to be seen as reassuringly stable or a bit of a lad? A new-media whiz or a silent sage? Ming Campbell or Nick Clegg?
Once you have plotted your brand position on a Boston grid (ask your head of planning to explain), all other decisions should be simple. But please be conscious of the need for 360-degree integrated communications. If you hire the looker but go on wearing sock suspenders, you will only confuse. On the other hand, sock suspenders and Anne Widdecombe would be a nice fit. (Not very contemporary, I grant you, but a nice fit.)
Q: I run a frozen-food concern and we're hitting a bit of a rough patch. My agency seems thoroughly uninterested in trying to guide us into calmer waters. However, my design company has offered a solution. Historically, does this work?
A: I'm not sure what you mean. There's no historic data on which to draw. A solution is either a good solution or a bad solution; it either works or it doesn't. Its authorship is utterly irrelevant. There was a time, certainly, when design companies were loftily dismissed by advertising agencies as mere cosmeticians, without a strategic bone in their delicate bodies. But design companies now commission research, employ planners, write ten-year business plans and put together a 72-deck PowerPoint presentation with the best of them.
Take your design company's solution to your ad agency and ask them to use it as a brief for some new advertising. That should flush them into action. They will also have ten good reasons why the design company's solution is total crap, three of which might even have substance.
Q: This is a serious question: I'm convinced that one of my colleagues has a serious alcohol addiction. He's the typical gregarious, extrovert agency type and everyone humours his drunken excesses. I don't want to stage a US-style intervention, but he desperately needs help. Besides carefully, how should I proceed?
A: And this is a serious answer. I don't believe there's an all-purpose solution to this problem: a lot depends on the individual and how much you know about him and his family. Perhaps the only general point to make is this: although doing nothing is by far the most attractive option, it can never be the right one.
Assuming he's married, do you know his wife? Does anyone you know know his wife? Better still, does anybody's wife know his wife? Spend a lot of time working out the least intimidating way to make initial contact with his family.
This first approach is critical. If it seems to suggest corporate busybodying, or worse, an implied threat to his job, huge harm can be done. The shutters will come down and further progress will become impossible. Set your objectives, one by one, with great care. Your first aim should be to get someone known and trusted by his wife, preferably with no direct relationship to your company, very very gently, to establish some key facts. Does his wife acknowledge that her husband has a drink problem? Have they discussed it - or are they conspiring to ignore it? Is he in denial while she's impotently worrying herself to death?
All this is critical intelligence - and until you've got it, you simply can't be certain what to do next.
Once established, that tenuous line can be cautiously extended. There'll be a crunch moment when your man himself is brought into the loop. If he's allowed to think that his wife has been conspiring with his company behind his back, it might take months to repair the damage done. The greatest reassurance you can offer him is the company's clear determination to retain his professional contribution. The more he believes your motives to be unsentimentally self-interested, the better.
That's, I think, how you have to start. After that, you can only play it by ear. But you do have to start.
I wish you both the best of luck.
- "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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.