On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm on the grad scheme and the other day the agency's Head of Talent, People Management and Human Resources gave us a talk on the importance of having a life outside work. I joined adland just because it's all one big social-work-life blend, but did I get that wrong?

A: What's the most important thing an agency CEO has to do? Win business? Schmooze clients? Make money? Make friends in high places? Hit the headlines? Wow conferences? Hire the coolest yacht in Cannes?

None of the above. The most important thing a CEO has to do is ensure that the agency is teeming with talent. And after that, to see that that talent is inspired, resourced, managed and creatively allocated to clients' businesses where their skills can make their clients more successful. Nothing is as important as that. I don't even know what comes second.

So why does your CEO have a Head of Talent, People Management and Human Resources? If those starchy words mean anything, they describe precisely what the CEO should be doing. Either your CEO has knowingly subcontracted his or her prime function - or holds the belief that what used to be called Personnel is a discrete, bolt-on function, rather like IT: necessary to keep the wheels turning but not an inherent part of the agency's reason for being.

But if you ignore the textbook advice of your Head of T, PM and HR and study the way your agency works, you'll find that what you hoped for does indeed exist. In any enjoyable, successful agency (and is there a long-term successful agency that isn't enjoyable?), the big, social-work-life blend is a spontaneous, self-generated, unregulated organism that often succeeds in maintaining standards, optimism and morale even where management seems to have opted out. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

None of this is to suggest you shouldn't have a private life. But one of the many agreeable things about working in advertising is that some knowledge of music, films, books, travel, sports and people will all come in handy at some point; so that doesn't limit your leisure activity much, does it?

Q: We are a progressive marketing department and have leading-edge policies to ensure the right work-life balance. As a result, quite a few of our employees work off-site often. How do I evaluate their performance and avoid them suffering from my "out of sight, out of mind" syndrome?

A: Please read my answer immediately above. Good marketing departments are not unlike good advertising agencies (though spreadsheets figure rather more prominently). In the best ones, you'll find a similar "spontaneous, self-generated, unregulated organism that often succeeds in maintaining standards, optimism and morale even where management seems to have opted out". The trouble with employees working off-site - and often - is not just that you forget what they look like. There has never yet been a single instance of infectious spontaneity being generated or communicated through the medium of e-mail. Nor will there ever be. And when was the last time you witnessed the birth of an inspired idea in the middle of a conference call?

You claim to be progressive, with leading-edge policies to ensure the right work-life balance. You've just hired a Head of Talent, People Management and Human Resources, haven't you?

Achieving a tolerable work-life balance is agonisingly difficult for a great many people. And there are certainly some jobs that can be done perfectly well from home. But I'm willing to bet that the most progressive marketing departments will soon be trumpeting the leading-edge advantages of the revolutionary Under-a-Common-Roof theory of people management. I've no idea how you can evaluate the performance of out-of-sight employees. If there was an obvious answer, it wouldn't be a problem.

Q: Is it a good idea to open a virtual agency in Second Life?

A: It's very revealing, looking back at some of the questions I've been sent over the years and never got around to answering. This one dates from early 2007. And the answer is no.

Q: I googled my name recently and found that a young photographic student with the same name as me and with a cool website is listed ahead of me on the search result. How can this be, as I am more important than him, run a well-known agency and was once in the Financial Times?

A: Do you have any idea how ridiculous your question reveals you to be?

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.