On the Campaign couch: How do I restore my agency's morale?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do I restore my agency's morale?

I let our holding company move the agency I'm chief executive of into a new building but it's really soulless and our staff find it really uninspiring.

What would be the quickest way to restore morale?
It’s interesting that you should say you "let" your holding company move your agency into a new building. This suggests that you didn’t put up much of a counterargument: either because you didn’t think that the move would affect you much or because you didn’t want to embark on an argument you knew you’d lose and would leave relationships with your owners severely soured. Either way, your authority as the CEO will have been badly undermined. If a CEO doesn’t have the power to determine an agency’s workplace – as one of the very few tangible brand clues available to an agency, it’s an immensely important decision – it doesn’t say much for their standing. And for those of your staff who already like to pretend that you’re the supine servant of some remote, dollar-driven philistine, this will be seen as confirming evidence. For everyone’s sake, not least your own, you need to embark on a restoration plan with some haste; but not at the expense of serious thought.

The first thing you need to do is stop feeling pissed off. If you’re seen to be seething with impotent resentment, you’ll infect every single member of your staff. The slightest hint from you that you blame the move on "them" will further confirm your staff (and a good few clients) of your hierarchical insignificance. 

Start by accepting that the location and exterior of your building are fixed; so forget them. Then call together, with a bottle of wine, your three most imaginative senior people and your financial director. Remind them how great theatrical designers can transform the bleak, bare stage of a theatre into a place of wonder and, what’s more, a place precisely fitted for the play it will contain. Then ask them all to imagine what interior transformations would precisely reflect the singular agency you believe yours to be: your brand. All-purpose trendiness must be resolutely resisted. You might need outside help but you shouldn’t. 

If the cost of your plan is greater than your discretionary limit, which it probably should be, you’ll need written agreement from your holding company before you begin: and this is your moment of truth. 

You’ll need to prepare a formal business plan, with a realistic estimate of the cost of doing nothing. Research among clients, staff and the media should be quoted as supporting evidence. Keep emotion out of it, and under no circumstances even hint that this expenditure has been made necessary only because of the crass demands of holding company apparatchiks. It should be a joint submission from your entire management group – which will, of course, include your financial director, who’s been involved from the beginning – and must be signed by you all. Do not include the slightest suggestion that it’s open for discussion. Ask only that permission be granted in time for the intended start date. Then hold your nerve.

The moment that permission comes through, before a single inner wall has been demolished, you’ll all feel unchained and elevated. Power will have been miraculously restored. 

But if this suggestion unnerves you – if you waver for as much as a milli-second – they’ll smell it immediately. And then you’ll be doomed.

I run a creative agency and am looking for an executive creative director. I’m particularly impressed with one candidate but she has always worked in PR. Will my creative teams accept a leader from a different discipline?
I don’t suppose they would – and they might not be wrong. It depends if you need an ECD with great brand-positioning skills or one with great craft-finishing skills. 

Much of the most-admired, most-awarded advertising is admired and awarded not because of its brilliant positioning but because of some apparent detail of execution: of style, of one inspired piece of casting, of typography, of conjunction of words with pictures, of editing, of animation, of voiceover, of choice of music; or their perfect orchestration. A creative director who’s worked only in PR, through no fault of her own, will never have had hands-on control over – or even influence on – any such decisions: and your creative teams will know that. Yet those are the judgments that a creative director has to make every day.