On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Rob writes: An art director friend of mine went for a job up North the other day. He got through to the second interview.

That went well too. Then they said they really liked him but just to be sure, would he mind doing some work, freelance, on a pitch for them just so they could be absolutely sure that he was right. Work done and liked, he was finally offered the job. But not at the advertised salary. Twenty per cent less. On the basis that they liked him but thought he wasn't absolutely up to the level of the job spec. Needed a bit more experience. What should he do, bearing in mind he is gainfully employed in a good London agency at the present time but is ready for a move?

A: Starting a new job is always a bit hairy. Starting a new job that entails moving house makes it even hairier. Both parties need to begin with cautious confidence. Yet your friend's potential new agency seems to have gone out of its way to ensure maximum mutual unease.

The agency had every opportunity to judge both his work and his attitude. As a result, they claim that he isn't absolutely up to the level of their job spec. Why are they hiring him, then? If you have doubts about someone, you don't purge those doubts by paying them less. The suspicion lingers that they're trying to cut costs: 20 per cent less is a lot less. They must know they risk losing him and they don't seem to mind.

For your mate, it would seem not only that he was on probation, but was on probation to a company that didn't mind bending the rules as it went along. I can't think of a more uncertain beginning.

The best time to move is when two things coincide: you've been deeply unhappy for at least six months and a company you respect clearly wants you very badly.

Your friend should be polite, of course, but must be firm in his refusal. And should remain that way even if the agency belatedly discovers that it's got some extra money after all.

Q: Hello Jeremy, I've been at the same respected agency for 14 years, the last six of which as the creative director. I have had great career progression, great clients and been awarded on several occasions (it's also been the only company I have worked at) but feel it is now time for a new challenge. However, the few interviews I have been on thus far have usually begun with a "F*** me ... that's a long time", followed by quizzical looks that are usually reserved for people with webbed fingers or from Swindon. By sticking with the same agency from the start, have I become "institutionalised" to other agencies?

A: Winners of creative trophies are the immediate recipients of multiple job offers. At first glance, this seems reasonable enough.

At second glance, it's evidence of agency stupidity.

Beverley has been a senior person for nine years already. In the tiny village of senior creative persons, Beverley and Beverley's work should already be known to all alert agencies and their advisors. Yet it is only when Beverley wins the Grand Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe that competitive agencies start flashing their chequebooks. Why should this be?

Beverley is no more talented than before.

In fact, Beverley should be a great deal less desirable than before, being no more talented but suddenly much more expensive; but that, of course, is irrelevant. What the bestowal on Beverley of the Grand Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has done is to relieve creative recruiters of the need to make a subjective judgment. Or to grind the point home: people whose prime skill is supposed to be the ability to spot and assess talent happily subordinate their judgment to some distant jury. And that distant jury's verdict is swallowed whole, unchallenged, by a great many people who've long been in a better position to make an accurate assessment of Beverley's true talent.

Agency people are so unsure of their talent-spotting ability - the very ability that their clients come to them for - that they need some external evidence, however spurious, to serve as a crutch. Gongs are one; and job offers are another - or rather their absence.

And so to your question. Instead of looking at your work, which would require people to expose their judgment, they look at your record, which lends itself neatly to objective measurement. Fourteen years in the same agency! Nobody wanted to poach you? Nobody dangled share options in front of you? Nobody showed you a layout of the new letterhead with your name first? Can't be any good!

But now that I've exposed these sad practices, you should be deluged with offers.

- "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.