Someone we recently employed missed his train on his way back from his first client presentation and was going to be late back to the agency. This is normally not a problem. However, alarm bells started to ring when he then said he was going to fill in the time between the next train arriving by ‘going for a pint’. Should I admire his honesty or be worried that I’ve hired a ‘lively’ one?
On the basis of this one letter, I judge you to be precisely the kind of leader that ad agencies should avoid appointing at all costs. You worry about the unimportant things while failing even to recognise the important ones.
Of course it doesn’t matter that he filled in time by going for a pint. He’d probably have been a bit apprehensive going into his first client presentation and probably missed his train because he hadn’t wanted to cut short the discussion that followed it. You should have encouraged him to have a second and made sure he chalked them up as a legitimate expense.
But it seems not to have occurred to you that by sending a recent recruit – someone by definition untried – as the sole representative of your agency to make a presentation to an existing client, you were behaving with reckless irresponsibility. It was an insult to the client and deeply unfair on your representative. No wonder the poor bugger needed a beer.
Pettiness is an unforgivable characteristic to be found in an agency leader. I don’t mean an entirely proper respect for discipline or good manners; I mean indiscriminate pettiness. An agency governed by petty people will end up employing only petty people and producing only petty work.
I suggest you ask one of your art directors to inscribe the following passage on good-quality vellum and hang it prominently over your desk.
"Without order, planning, predictability, central control, accountancy, instructions to the underlings, obedience, discipline – without these, nothing fruitful can happen because everything disintegrates. And yet – without the magnanimity of disorder, the happy abandon, the entrepreneurship venturing into the unknown and incalculable, without the risk and the gamble, the creative imagination rushing in where bureaucratic angels fear to tread – without this, life is a mockery and a disgrace."
These words were written more than 40 years ago by a German-born economist working for the National Coal Board. He went on to say: "Any organisation has to strive continuously for the orderliness of order and the disorderliness of creative freedom." And he reserved his admiration for those leaders of organisations who honoured the two and allowed both to flourish. He never claimed it was easy; just achievable.*
In fact, in an agency, it’s easier than you might think. Agencies are full of intelligent and quite pragmatic people. They can usually sense when orderliness is necessary – and will certainly know when it isn’t.
Before you reprimand your new recruit for having bought himself a beer in working hours, take another good look at that inscription over your desk.
*EF Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study Of Eeconomics As If People Mattered, 1973.
I am an agency boss and have just lost a big long-standing client. How do I boost staff morale at the agency?
A long time ago, when the IPA ran examinations, I suggested that the exam questions asked failed to reflect the reality of agency life and suggested alternatives. One read: "You are chairman of a middle-sized agency. You read in Campaign that your managing director and three of your other directors have resigned, taking with them your one profitable account and both your top creative people. Draft a letter to your remaining clients explaining how these changes will dramatically improve the quality of your service."
In your case, draft an all-staff e-mail with "It’s an Ill Wind…" in the subject box. In it, you reveal that: a) the departed account was curiously unprofitable; b) the client is thought to have been in recent discussions with the European Fraud Agency; and c) the opportunity that this vacancy frees up is the most exciting the agency has been presented with for years.
Then press "delete" – and win some business.
‘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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE