On the Campaign couch: How do we get along post-merger?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do we get along post-merger?

After being acquired, my agency is moving into an office with our new owner.

The problem is, one of our leaders doesn’t get along with a couple of people from their leadership team. What should I do to encourage a good working relationship between them? 
For years, he told everybody that he’d never sell out and then he sold out. And he can’t forgive the people he sold out to for making him look like a hypocritical money-grubber. So he’s keeping the money and nurturing his resentment. He’ll never develop a good working relationship with his new owners; how could he when they’ve used the crude instrument of the chequebook to strip him of his honour and his independence? Given the choice between hating himself and hating them, he’s settled for them. 

What is a good New Year’s resolution to help me be better at my job as an account planner?
I’ll suggest two. But first, a short scene from an agency meeting room.

It’s ten o’clock on a Friday morning. Present: a senior suit, the senior suit’s assistant, the new-business director, the executive creative director, a creative team and a senior account planner called Beverley. It’s nearly a month since the agency first received the brief from Burgrips International, a deeply desirable potential client, and the group is assembled to review the first creative solutions. The final presentation is fixed for next Wednesday.

Beverley recaps the client brief, which everyone has read many times, and concludes: "So it’s clear that Burgrips faces increasing competition from both the established premium brands and the up-and-coming discounters. What you might call the ‘squeezed middle’, haha. So over to you, maestro."

The ECD mutters that they haven’t found this analysis terribly helpful in pointing the way forward but it’s obvious that only a very strong creative idea will enable Burgrips to differentiate itself from the competition at an emotional level: "In other words, it’s gangbuster time. Burgrips is just bloody boring – neither one thing nor the other. Only really ballsy standout creative is going to cut through the crap and make people sit up and think again – and that’s going to take guts."

The creative team then takes the meeting through four creative approaches, after which the senior suit turns to Beverley: "Well, Beverley?"

And Beverley, quite slowly, and with unconvincing declarations of regret, calls on research and precedent to demolish all four. They agree to meet again first thing on Monday. 

As he leaves the room, Beverley says: "Do call me over the weekend if there’s anything more I can do to help." 

So your first New Year’s resolution is to make a careful study of Beverley’s working methods and resolve to adopt none of them. 

Your job is to spot the opportunity – and express it inspiringly. You’re part of the team; not a dispassionate observer. And when there’s pain, you share it.

Your second resolution should be to reread A Master Class In Brand Planning: The Timeless Works Of Stephen King, edited by Judie Lannon and Merry Baskin. 

You will, of course, have read it already. Account planners who haven’t read it are imposters. But every time you read it (20 classic originals by King, each amplified and interpreted by an ace contemporary practitioner), you’ll become a more useful account planner. He died ten years ago this month and he’s still your best tutor. 

I lied to a journalist about the content of our new Christmas campaign. I was under pressure not to let anything leak, but they have taken it personally. How can I repair the relationship?
There’s an infinitely subtle, tacit code of mutual understanding between agency and journalist that you’ve clearly not mastered. There is a critical difference between not telling the truth and lying. Give a categorical, non-ambiguous answer to a journalist’s sensitive question – and you’ll be thought to have told an unconditional truth. So the journalist, once your categorical, non-ambiguous answer has been revealed as a lie, will be understandably miffed. A circumspect, circuitous answer, on the other hand, allows you to honour your promise to your company of total discretion while inviting the journalist to draw journalist conclusions. The existence of this code has never before been publicly admitted.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP