campaignlive.co.uk, Tuesday, 17 December 2002 12:00AM
1. Q: My agency is consistently disparaged by Campaign. Any wins we have are invariably headlined: "Previous agency loses account." How do I get the esteemed journal on my side?
A: You are suffering from what we psychiatrists call selective perception. Campaign discriminates against all agencies quite indiscriminately.
2. Q: I am a junior creative who wanted to work in advertising to change the world, influence things for the better or at least sell a few crates of beer or a BMW. Instead I've been stuck in a corner banging out press ads for an electrical retailer. Is this just the usual learning curve or should I get out now?
A: You're absolutely right to express concern. The reputation of creative people in advertising agencies rests not, as the innocent suppose, on the quality of their work but on the social acceptability of the accounts with which they have contrived to become associated.
So it is that a copywriter assigned to an industrial waste recycling account, despite turning out work of originality, craftsmanship and demonstrable effect, will never be called by a headhunter, will never be lunched by Trevor Beattie, will never be invited to be a judge at Cannes and will never be considered, even by his own agency, to work on Levi's. Whereas the copywriter who once spent five months sharing an office with an art director working on Volkswagen will enjoy all the above opportunities and will probably be identified as a Face to Watch into the bargain.
This, I'm afraid, is the learning curve you must conquer. When it comes to the chance to work on a national lager, the greenest of art school graduates starts with a devastating advantage over the talented print copywriter with three years of electrical retail work behind him. Another two and you'll be typecast for life.
3. Q: I've just completed a long earn-out period from my network jailers and am now a free man. I want to buy a very, very expensive car to celebrate but intend to stay on at the agency for a couple of years. In these times of redundancies, would it be insensitive to be seen driving into work with a chauffeur-driven Aston Martin?
A: No, it wouldn't be insensitive. It'd be an act of incalculable stupidity.
When small companies are sold, two quite distinct classes of worker are created: those who are in; and those who are not.
For talented and hardworking people - the very people on whom the future of the agency will very soon depend - there is nothing more divisive than the knowledge that they've just missed the cut. Perhaps a dozen people, by accident of age and position, each walks off with a very large bunch of bananas indeed; while for all those Rizla-thin beneath them - zilch.
Drive your Aston Martin to and from your Cotswold farmhouse. Come to work as you've always come. And spend a lot of time working out how to reward those who will one day be you; but who unlike you will have no company to sell.
4. Q: Running an incredibly successful and cool agency known for its outstanding creative quality, respected and envied by peers, and hunted by clients might seem like the life of Riley. However, I am amazed that hoards of gullible dolts have swallowed our spin hook, line and sinker. To make matters worse, we have been peddling this guff for so long that I realised the other week we have started to believe our own hype. All eyes are on us and paranoia has set in with a vengeance. I wake up in the middle of the night screaming client names. How can I continue the charade?
A: How fortunate that Ivan Massow has so recently blazed a trail for you.
This chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Art, you will remember, publicly described modern art as "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat". He then resigned, was swamped with expressions of support and is now rumoured to be starting up a competitive gallery.
Do exactly the same. Do not bother to change the words. At a stroke you will rid yourself of guilt, attract huge sums of venture capital, restore your sense of self-worth and deeply embarrass a great many gullible dolts.
(You are quite sure it's all guff, I hope?)
5. Q: I'm a client who's recently moved jobs. Having previously worked with a medium-sized creative shop I was constantly exposed to creative teams. Now having gone global I'm working with one of the bigger agencies. They are very reluctant to bring creative people into meetings. Is this because the work is being freelanced out, the team doing the work is too junior or they are afraid?
A: Inside every creative person lurk two very different animals.
There's the tiger: a fierce and principled perfectionist who threatens to resign if the account person returns from the client with the tentative suggestion that the name of the brand might feature in the commentary.
And there's the poodle.
The poodle is evident only in client meetings: because creative people love being loved by clients. At the merest hint of dissatisfaction, they will whip out their magic marker and redesign the entire advertisement - thus almost certainly disimproving it, but earning the client's awe-struck admiration.
That's the only good reason for keeping creative people out of client meetings. If I were you, I'd flex your chequebook and insist on seeing them.
6. Q: Why do the creative department and the planners hate each other so much?
A: For the answer to this one, we need to turn to one of our greatest philosophers.
Sir Karl Popper famously illustrated the fundamental asymmetry between validation and invalidation. You may posit the theory, said Popper, that all swans are white; and you may continue to observe white swan after white swan for the rest of your life; but this does not entitle you to claim that your theory has been validated. With every white swan logged, you may simply entertain your hypothesis with a slightly higher level of confidence.
Rather, said Popper, in the search for truth, you should seek not to validate but invalidate.
You need only to observe just one black swan - and your treasured hypothesis is comprehensively, unarguably, brutally demolished. To the dispassionate scientist, in the pursuit of truth, such a revelation brings joy of a transcendental purity.
Creative people, however, are not dispassionate scientists. When account planners, signally failing to disguise their delight, report on yet another black swan observed, on yet another campaign idea killed in its infancy, creative people seldom experience a sense of joy. In a perfect world, they would express profound gratitude to their planners for such enlightenment.
In the real world, they prefer to hate them.
7. Q: I work on the flagship account at my agency, the work is amazing, picking up awards all over, selling loads and is the one account everyone wants to work on. Problem is I have an extremely good sense of smell and the client has extremely bad halitosis. No matter how far away I stand, I can't avoid the stench. I don't want to come off the business, but I can't bear many more meetings.
A: The trick with this client is not to back away further from him but to induce him to back away further from you.
I wonder if you remember pipes?
It is still possible to buy a type of tobacco called shag. (Asking for it in the tobacconist will be your only serious hurdle.)
You will, unfortunately, have to light your pipe: but once you've become a habitual shag-smoker, the distance between you and your client will not only be doubled but, as further insurance, your sense of smell will become permanently impaired.
You may also acquire an unwarranted reputation for sagacity.
8. Q: At a board meeting I rashly suggested I would resign as chairman if we weren't Campaign's Agency of the Year within three years. That deadline has just come and gone and we're not. We've never even been close. My fellow directors, a vengeful and unforgiving bunch, keep reminding me of my pledge. Should I try convincing them I didn't really mean it, or must I fall on my sword?
A: I wonder if your vengeful colleagues read this column? If so, they will know with absolute certainty that, although unsigned, this letter comes from you: it is beyond credibility that the United Kingdom could contain two agency chairmen not only addle-pated enough to make such a pledge but base enough to try and wriggle out of it.
My answer will therefore be of at least as much interest to them as to you.
So let's get this out into the open. Your colleagues do not want to get rid of you because you have failed to honour a pledge. Although they are too cowardly to say so, they want to get rid of you because they find you base and addle-pated.
I conclude, therefore, that yours is an agency chaired by a person of questionable honour and intelligence surrounded by disloyal subordinates too spineless to stage the management revolution they must all know is necessary. Can you really have believed you were in the running for Agency of the Year?
As soon as you have finished reading this, call a board meeting. Confront your colleagues with my analysis. The first of your colleagues to endorse it with enthusiasm should be made chief executive with immediate effect.
Fire the existing one along with any other broody buggers. Take it from there.
The spirit of leadership is heady stuff: you may find it suits you. You may soon find yourself chairing an agency of openness and integrity. You might even, in three years' time or so, find yourself in the running for Agency of the Year. But I wouldn't bet on it.
9. Q: I love meeting up with my journalist contacts and am always brandishing my credit card around on their behalf. However, I'm getting a little miffed that they never pick up the tab. Am I a whingeing pedant or do I have a point?
A: Shut your eyes for a moment and pretend you're a journalist. A person not dissimilar from yourself keeps buying you drinks. You know from the books that journalists need to be hard-bitten, cynical creatures, deeply suspicious of the motives of all civilians. You therefore conclude that this incontinent entertainer is not truly, deeply fond of you for your own sake but is after something.
Shrewdly, you suspect that it might be a favourable mention or two. Yet he gives you no useful information, no inside gossip, no greater understanding of a current story. He gives you nothing but drinks - so why should you buy one for him?
Now open your eyes again. Journalists aren't quite as vain and ambitious as you are, but very nearly. If you can help them improve their own profiles, they will want to meet you almost as much as you want to meet them. And you can tell that this has happened when you reach for your wallet and they say: "No, no, Nigel: this one's on me."
10. Q: I'm a new-business director with a client in every category. Yet I am expected to generate new business. How?
A: Stop whining and get on with it. There is no agency in the world with a client in every category.
11. Q: I'm trying to stick a knife in my CEO. How do I make it look like a pat on the back?
A: I know precisely how; but it is an immutable policy of mine to withhold help from shits.
12. Q: I'm from the old school of advertising life - long lunches, villas in Cannes for two weeks - you get the picture. I've just had a roasting from our network head office and have been told I need to make massive cuts. How can I do this and keep my daily table at The Ivy?
A: You can't.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk