On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I think I have pretty finely honed creative sensibilities, and I enjoy being heavily involved in the creation of our advertising.

Yet part of me resents the fact that I am doing some of what we pay our ad agency to do. And I'm not so pig-headed as not to realise that I might also be constraining the agency's own creativity. I'd quite like to let them have more leash but I worry that a recession is not the climate in which to do it. What do you advise?

A: I advise you to undertake a ruthless self-audit. If somebody asked me to describe the client with whom I'd least like to work, I think I'd just tear out your letter and hand it over, wordlessly.

Of course clients make a creative contribution. I doubt if any great work has ever been published that didn't benefit from a creative client. The ability to see promise in an original and untried idea requires a creative mindset. Agencies, tediously, expect their clients to exhibit courage - but it's not courage that clients need: it's an instinctive understanding of communications theory. So that when they're shown the unexpected and the unfamiliar, they have a theoretical structure against which to test it.

But you, sir, clearly like being involved enough in the creation of your advertising to justify some share of the credit when it all comes good; while retaining the right to distance yourself completely when the wheels fall off. Creative people have been known to accuse account planners of similar spineless behaviour. It's not admirable.

Canny agencies allow for their clients' touching eagerness to contribute. You suggest a catchy slogan: "When winter skies are grim and grey/Suck Parson's Pastilles every morning." The client's brow furrows and his lips move. "I like it," he says - "but just one little thought ...?" "Brilliant, Clive!" you cry. "Why didn't we think of that, Zack?"

As for your own predicament, stop interfering. In times of recession, a good agency should be capable of generating ideas that make your precious and endangered money go further. That should be your brief to your agency - and you should allow them as long a leash as they wish to take.

The testing time for you is presentation time. That's when you'll need to demonstrate not courage but creative judgment.

Q: I'm a marketing director for a well-known media owner. Half of my marketing team has been made redundant and, as a result, morale has hit rock bottom. I've tried everything to get people motivated again but nothing seems to work. We're not meeting our targets and I'm feeling the heat from the management. Is it too drastic to bring in a totally new team?

A: It all depends on what your strategy is. Do you want to get your marketing team firing on all cylinders again? Or do you want to get management off your back?

If the latter, then you should concentrate entirely on Swift Decisive Action. I learnt this technique a very long time ago when the Ministry of Defence was assessing me for Leadership Qualities. I was put in charge of a team of five men, given a six-foot plank, shown a ditch that was eight foot across and told to get my team to the other side. I had ten minutes to do it.

I didn't hesitate. "Number One, take front of plank. Number Two, take rear of plank. Numbers Three, Four and Five, mount plank!" I barked. They did as ordered and fell into the ditch.

I didn't hesitate. "Change plan!" I snapped. "Numbers Four and Five, form human ladder! Numbers Two and Three, place plank on shoulders! Number One, jump!" They did as ordered, and they fell into the ditch.

I didn't hesitate. "Change plan!" I snapped ... And before very long, my allotted time came to an end and I was later awarded top marks for leadership and made an officer.

So if you want to get management off your back, fire the rest of your existing team, bring in a totally new team, reorganise them into competitive units, and hire a Himalayan mountaineer to give them stress tests in sub-zero weather over a long weekend on Dartmoor. This will buy you six months. And when at the end of that time you've still not met your targets - which you won't have done - all you need do is snap: "Right! Change plan!" And you should be OK till the end of the year.

On the other hand, you may want to adopt the riskier strategy of actually trying to meet your sales targets. This will entail a serious conversation with your management during which you explain that clearly unattainable sales targets so demotivate sales people that they end up selling far less than they would have sold had they been set lower but attainable sales targets.

I suspect the thought of such a conversation may make Swift Decisive Action curiously attractive.

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

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