Jeremy Bullmore
Jeremy Bullmore
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: An executive creative director writes: I work in a mid-sized agency alongside my co-ECD.

I have been working here for six months and I have noticed that, despite getting along very well in every way, our sense of humours are not aligned. Call me biased, but I would say that I have a more superior sense of humour and one that is in tune with the wider population. My co-ECD habitually shows me videos and comedians on YouTube that he thinks are amusing, which I vehemently don't. The whole affair makes me wince. It is starting to make us clash in creative sessions and I don't know what to do.

A: Most of the stated reasons for appointing joint ECDs are bogus. They can be made to sound respectable but they're usually a cover-up for management indecision.

"We need an ECD and we could go for Jake but that would risk losing Scarlett or we could go for Scarlett but that would certainly mean losing Jake, GBH are after him already, and, anyway, half the department finds Jake far too abrasive and two clients have now said not to field Jake, please, as he doesn't get their business but, on the other hand, he does get the gongs ... so tell you what, let's make them both up and say it's all about fantastic in-depth talent, diversity, complementarity, horses-for-courses, too big a burden for any one person ... just draft a press release, will you, Conrad, thanks ..."

There can be successful ECD partnerships but the odds are stacked against them. Authority divided by two is a lot less than half. Retaining the balance of influence within an agency doesn't happen easily; with creative authority diluted, more conventional opinion becomes relatively more influential. Creative teams will instinctively seek support from whichever ECD seems the more amenable. Like a boat, when an agency begins to wallow, it soon begins to lose forward speed.

So, in your case, I don't think it's simply a matter of sense of humour incompatibility. You're only getting on with each other well because, in many ways admirably, you're both consciously making concessions. But with every concession made, some small standard somewhere slips.

In any case, are you sure you should be an ECD? This may seem picky, but an ECD should know that "our sense of humours" should be "our senses of humour" and that "more superior" is ungrammatical.

A true ECD, capable of exercising benign influence over a huge range of different accounts appealing to a huge range of different people, would also know that all senses of humour, from the scatological to the so-subtle-you've-missed-it, should be at your disposal: according not to your personal tastes but to brand need.

It's clear that your co-ECD doesn't understand this either. If I were your management, I'd be seriously thinking of drafting another press release.

Q: I am a creative and seem to be suffering from some sort of block. In my early career, I was always full of ideas and could not wait to get stuck into the next campaign. Now I feel like I have run out. What should I do to get my mojo back?

A: You haven't run out; you've just become more experienced. And that can be a devastating handicap for a creative person.

In your early career, you were always full of ideas and couldn't wait to get stuck into the next campaign. Some of those ideas were wonderful and some of those ideas were stinkeroos and you didn't bother to distinguish between them because other, older, wiser people did that for you. And when they rejected one of your ideas, you sounded off in the pub for a couple of hours but it never really set you back because you were utterly confident that you could have another three ideas by lunchtime tomorrow and so indeed you did.

Now when you have an idea, you submit it immediately to your own internal review system. You check it for brand relevance, originality, retail appeal, all-platform extendibility, longevity, social network and PR potential, and whether or not it could be better expressed in the form of a soft woolly animal. Before you've exposed your fledgling idea to a single other person, you already know that it's seriously deficient in four key respects.

So get back to your old ways, when you were ignorant. Stop being responsible - indeed, cultivate irresponsibility. Revel in illogicality, absurdity, naivety and childishness. There's no risk attached: you're surrounded by dozens of people who'll stop absolute rubbish getting a green light. But what none of those people can do is what you can. So do it.

- "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.