On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Dear Jeremy, my agency needs a new executive creative director. We want a top-caliber person, but don’t have the money to outbid other agencies. How else can we woo them?

Start by learning how to spell "calibre". No exceptional ECD is going to find an ignorant chief executive reassuring.

Next, apply your intelligence. The reason you can’t afford a top-calibre person is that some other agency (or agencies) has (or have) already given her (or him) the opportunity to prove that they are, indeed, top-calibre. A string of awards and new-business triumphs have cemented the reputation. The price tag has soared.

But just remember that this high-calibre person was just as high-calibre before being discovered. They just hadn’t been discovered. It wasn’t the salary that made the talent; it was the talent that made the salary.

Then concede the fact (yes: fact) that, somewhere in the world, and probably in this country, there are at least five undiscovered persons who are destined to become the undisputed stars of the next few years, and all with remuneration packages way, way out of your miserly reach.

So here’s the logic. If you so distrust your own judgment – if you’re always going to wait for someone else to take the risk of giving the undiscovered their first leading role – then, by the time you’ve finally decided who you want to hire, you won’t be able to afford them.

All this means you’ve got to be a talent-spotter rather than a talent-poacher: a lot more difficult, but a great deal cheaper and infinitely more satisfying.

Look first in your own backyard. All tomorrow’s stars are lurking in someone’s backyard, overlooked because they’re too familiar. Make sure there isn’t one in yours. Conduct a mental audit of all your best creative players and apply marks up to ten for the anguish you’d feel if they were offered the top spot by a competitor. Eight or over makes them worth serious consideration. Then, who’s likely to walk if you bring in an outsider?

Cultivate your multi-agency clients. Pump them for indiscretions. Most clients enjoy being conspirators and, in their own self-interest, they’re not going to pitch you a lulu.

Then ask your most trusted headhunter for the name of the country’s most talented nonentity; not a list: just the one, please.

After all this, it’s up to you to do what you’re paid to do: make a decision. Trust your instinct. If you expect your favoured candidates to be interviewed by 11 of your colleagues and then to come back for a second round, the good ones will walk – and quite right too. You want someone with a bit of pride, and they won’t want to work for someone who can’t even carry their own board.

It may be, of course, that you don’t actually want a top-calibre ECD: you only want the headlines that announce to the world that you’ve just hired a top-calibre ECD. In which case, I can’t help you. Such stupidity is always hideously expensive but, even so, not nearly as expensive as it deserves to be.

Dear Jeremy, what is the biggest misconception about the advertising industry?

That it’s an industry. A defining characteristic of an industry is that it has shared goals. Advertising doesn’t. The minor elements, agencies and media, both want advertising expenditure to grow and grow and grow.

Advertisers, without whom there would be no industry, don’t. If they could be as rich and successful while spending nothing at all on advertising, they’d be delighted. And, anyway, advertisers aren’t advertisers in the same way that plumbers are plumbers. Not a single person in the world would describe their primary occupation as "advertiser". People avail themselves of an activity called advertising in order to be more successful at selling soap and airline seats.

As older readers may remember, I’ve been making this deeply boring point since two-thirds of the way through the past century. It’s had no effect at all – and I quite understand why. I’m not sure that calling an industry that manifestly isn’t an industry an industry does anyone any great harm – least of all the industry that isn’t. And since no-one, including me, has come up with a satisfactory alternative, I think I’ll shut up now.

‘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