On the Campaign Couch with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch with JB

Q: We have a client who doesn't seem to care what we do - they just leave all the decisions to us, as "we know best". I know I'll regret this later, but is this lack of involvement permissible?

A: I wonder what you mean when you say you'll regret this later? Perhaps you think your client will recognise himself from your question and suddenly begin to take an unwelcome interest in your work. If that's what you're fretting about, forget it. Clients don't read Campaign. I know that because they always say so and clients are truthful people.

But working for a client who doesn't care what you do must be as disconcerting as something called complete creative freedom. I'd hate it. One of the most valuable contributions made by good clients has always gone wholly unrecognised: and that's the amount of dire advertising that good clients prevent from seeing the light of day.

Many years ago, I'd make an annual offer to the creative department. If they continued to burn with resentment about some masterwork that had been rejected out of hand by some cowardly client, they could re-submit it for internal review. If found to be of sufficient promise, the rejected masterwork would then be re-submitted, with unconditional agency backing, to the client in question.

And what was striking was how very, very few creative people took up this offer. Because, when re-examined, the discarded work, which had lived with such colour in the memory, was seen for what it had always been: pale and unpersuasive.

There are, of course, exceptions and some of them famous. But much rejected advertising deserves to be rejected - and most honest creative people will admit it. Not immediately; the enthusiasm with which new work is presented is seldom manufactured and the disappointment is real enough. But it's always possible to have another idea - and when you've had one, it's curious how much easier it becomes to make an objective assessment of the original.

So I don't envy you your disconnected client. It's a perfectly permissible way to behave, of course; but if I were you, I'd appoint an internal devil's advocate as a surrogate for the client that isn't. All the best work is severely challenged before it's allowed out.If your client's not there to save you from embarrassment, you'd better make sure that someone else is.

Q: We have a really brilliant and well-respected creative at our agency. Unfortunately, he knows he is really brilliant and well-respected. He's so arrogant that he once removed a logo from a major client's print ad because he felt it ruined the overall look. Thankfully, the situation was rectified before the client saw it. As his boss, I've talked to him about his attitude, but he doesn't seem to listen. How can I manage him?

A: I'm pretty certain that this is all your fault. You've allowed this brilliant creative person to believe that the advertising business is a constant battle between the aesthetic purists, who put beauty before everything, and the crass pragmatists who insist on logos. I bet your brilliant creative person's favourite insult is the word compromise. I bet he sees it as his holy duty to fight and defeat the brutish forces of commercialism. And I bet that, when ordering him to reinstate that offensive logo, you reminded him of the financial importance to the agency of the client in question and how he was corporately committed to his logo. You almost certainly said: "We've all got to learn to live in the real world, Daniel."

In short, you confirmed your brilliant creative person in his belief in the nature of the war he was fighting and then instructed him to lose it. There's no more certain way of compelling a talented person to choose between capitulation and resignation.

This is what you should have done. You should have asked him why logos are important. You should have gently extracted from him the acknowledgement that logos are the necessary receptacles into which great brand values are poured and stored; and that an advertisement without a logo (or its equivalent) can never be part of a great advertising campaign.

And then you should have said: "Remember, Daniel, the greatest honours in our business go not to those who dodge the difficult but to those who overcome the difficult with elegance. And you are one of the very few who can do that."

If he's as good as you hope he is, Daniel would have found a magical way not just to accommodate the dreaded logo but to embrace it. And if he had still been petulant and stamped his little foot, you'd know he wasn't.

"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