On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm fresh out of university with an excellent degree and haven't been short of job offers. I'd like to work in advertising but the agency that wants to employ me turned down my request to pay off all or some of my student loan. Am I being unreasonable?

A: If the agency that wants to employ you really, really wanted to employ you - and wanted to employ you more than any of the other 73 graduates with excellent degrees who'd really, really like to work with the agency - they'd have stumped up uncomplainingly. As it is, you've come up against your first example of what's called Price Elasticity of Demand (PED).

In your case, this means that you're thought to be too expensive for what you offer. Whether this makes you elastic or inelastic is beyond me - but it's a valuable lesson to have learned so early in your career. The time to put your price up is when you've already demonstrated value - and not a moment before. If you ever do get to work in advertising, this is excellent advice not only to apply to yourself but also to pass on to your clients.

Q: I'm a marketing director with ambitions to be appointed to the Executive Board of my company, and a great opportunity has arisen. This is an invitation from our chief financial officer, at the behest of the chief executive, for me to attend the forthcoming round of investor relations roadshows. They're expecting increased scrutiny of our investment in our brands and NPD, and my role will be to answer any questions in this area. Anyway, our corporate comms people have asked me to provide a short biog and photo to include in the press pack and this presents me with a dilemma. To cut to the chase, I've had some new shots taken and it's obvious I've got slightly high colour on my cheeks and a little bit of redness on the nose. Should I get a bit of retouching done to knock it back a bit, or would this be going down a slippery slope? Obviously, I want my appearance in the packs for the institutional investors to make a positive impression. On the other hand, it would be too bad if an eagle-eyed analyst (or worse, a journalist) spotted the difference - remember Kate Winslet and GQ. What to do?

A: I very much hope for your sake that nobody identifies you from this letter and draws it to the attention of your CEO. Were that to happen, and if justice were to be done, your chances of being elevated to your Executive Board would evaporate immediately. As indeed might your existing position. As indeed might your future.

You're about to be quizzed by a lot of very beady financial analysts. They may not know much about the nature of brands but they know a great deal about what we can now openly call the recession. How you reply to their questions will have a direct bearing on your company's share price and therefore on your CEO's bonus - about which he is already extremely twitchy, having just sent his third son to private school.

Unless you've quite clearly mastered all that's been written about marketing in a downturn (at the last count, 164 items, dating back to the 20s), you'll flounder. You'll be tempted to curry favour with the analysts by announcing a severe reduction in brand support. You won't get it. Some smart-alec analyst will ask you how that strategy squares with the famous Kellogg versus Post great depression case study - and you won't have the faintest idea what he's talking about. But you'll rightly infer that not all analysts are in favour of reduced marketing expenditures in times of trouble - so you'll clumsily swerve into a bluster about the proven advantages of upping spend on brands with the aim of achieving long-term share gain by the time the downturn turns up again. At which point, another smart-alec analyst will ask you to explain why, if that's true, everybody doesn't do it. You won't know the answer. By this time, the colour in your cheeks will be even more evident than usual - making the discrepancy between the real you and your retouched portrait hilariously obvious to all present.

The feedback from the analysts to your CEO will in essence read as follows: "Your marketing director clearly knows nothing about real marketing. He confirms our worst suspicions that most marketing directors are obsessed with the cosmetics of marketing and are wholly ignorant of underlying business principles. In this respect, it was hardly reassuring that he'd so clearly gone to considerable trouble to fudge his own photo in the press pack. Under these circumstances, we're sure you'll understand why we're downgrading our next recommendation from 'Hold' to 'Sell'."

Bang goes your CEO's bonus. And bang goes you.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.