On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Our managing director (male) has created a macho, sexist culture in the company and it’s really beginning to bother me (male). He’s an effective leader in many ways, but his laddish jokes and near-harassment of staff (anything in a skirt) are borderline illegal. It amazes me that everyone seems to go along with his behaviour and, indeed, imitate it to stay in with him, including some very senior executives (female). But it looks to me like an accident waiting to happen. I can just imagine a disaffected employee being made redundant deciding to blow the whistle on him and take him (and us) to an industrial tribunal. He’s important to several of our top customers, and I’m loyal to the company, so what should I do?

My answer will offend both you and many readers. I fully expect hate mail.

On one condition, leave him alone and risk the tribunal. The condition is this: if you have good reason to believe that his near-harassment is even occasionally actual harassment, then you’ll need to do something. If not, not.

It seems to me that the world has become overpopulated with impeccably recruited and interchangeable graduate trainees who, in the courseof time, grow up to be impeccably trained and interchangeable executives. Like the young officers they might have been in an earlier age, they show admirable leadership qualities. They publicly praise winning teams, always thank the catering staff and are particularly good on births and engagements. Some even send out handwritten notes.

The trouble is, those handwritten notes could have been written by anyone. And a handwritten note that could have been written by anyone is not half as gratifying as a handwritten note written by a real person.

Say what you like about your managing director (and you have), he’s clearly a real person. Like quite a lot of good leaders, he seems to have developed a useful front for himself: one that’s loosely based on the true him but with added hyperbole. And the whole value of hyperbole, of course, is that people learn to recognise it and decode it and aim off for it – and, best of all, enjoy it.

So the residual effect of hyperbole may be exactly the same as if achieved through a flat statement – but with a welcome dressing of individuality. The nation’s most accomplished practitioner of this technique is, of course, the Mayor of London – which is precisely why a lot of impatient Tories want him to be their leader.

You say you’re amazed that everyone – including some senior women – seems to go along with your managing director’s behaviour, even to the extent of imitating it. Might you, I wonder, be the only member of your company unable to recognise hyperbole?

Or, to be even more offensive: are you, I wonder, an ex-impeccably recruited graduate trainee who has become an impeccably trained all-purpose executive, who finds it impossible to understand why your laddish managing director should attract such a loyal and affectionate following when, to put it bluntly, you don’t?

I am feeling utterly disillusioned after my boss suggested that I was unsuited to the industry because I always seemed so overworked and miserable. I’m starting to question whether it’s the agency or whether I should face the fact that I’m not an adman.

Are you, to use that phrase much favoured by headhunters, client-facing? If so, I fear for your future.

One of the most valuable commodities an agency can deliver for its clients – and at no extra charge – is optimism.

A marketing director sees brand share slip for the fourth consecutive quarter, hears of an incipient product launch from her most dangerous competitor and has her advertising budget raided to pay for a sponsorship deal brokered unilaterally over dinner by her chief executive. That’s when any sensible marketing director hotfoots it to Soho for a session of total-immersion optimism and a long lunch.

If you come across to your clients as you clearly come across to your boss, then you should probably start importing llamas or something.

Even planners should occasionally be cheerful – and not just when their confident prediction that the new campaign would bomb in research turns out to be right.

"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, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE