On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’m a very competitive person, but not everyone likes that in me. Do I need to change?

It’s good you’re competitive. People in our line of business are expected to be competitive. Clients pay us to be competitive on their behalf.

As I may have mentioned before, I once thought of using Monopoly to guide the agency in its recruitment process. Put six people round a Monopoly board and then just watch. Three hours later, you’ll know more about all of them than you’d ever glean from inkblots and interviews. You’ll know who are the most competitive because competitive people take Monopoly – indeed, absolutely everything – extremely seriously.

We never did it because the idea, although fun, has one fatal flaw.

It may have been Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal, Genghis Khan or François Duc de la Rochefoucauld; indeed, it may have been all of them, because they were all very competitive people. They said, it is alleged: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail." And it was almost certainly Vidal who said: "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies."

People who want to win at Monopoly are like Vidal. They don’t just want to win: they want all the other players to lose. And these may not be people you’d want on your side. Vidal and people who want to win at Monopoly don’t recognise the concept of "side" or "team" or "group" or "agency" or, indeed, the word "us". "Me" is what interests them to the exclusion of all else.

So – to return to your question – it occurs to me that you may be more like Vidal than Mother Teresa or Kevin Pietersen than Jimmy Anderson.

I’m all for you gloating over the public troubles of your client’s major rival. I’m all for you exulting that last year’s hottest agency has recently lost five consecutive new-business pitches. I’m all for you wanting your agency and your clients to win absolutely everything all the time. But competitiveness within the family is a different matter.

When your best friend in the agency took three months’ maternity leave and you were asked to act as locum on her biggest account, did you hope to so impress the client that they’d ask for you to be appointed on a permanent basis?

Have you ever withheld a piece of information that would have helped a colleague write a strategy document so that you could reveal it later when the draft of the document was being reviewed?

In internal meetings, have you been known to say "I think what Julian is trying to say is…"?

I thought so. You are, indeed, a very competitive person. And, yes, you do need to change.

I’m a nice person. I like to help out my colleagues. But I’m beginning to suspect that they are taking advantage of my good nature. How do I set my boundaries without getting a personality transplant?

You don’t have to be soft to be nice.

I suspect you agree with people too readily because you think disagreement rather rude. It’s not. Thoughtful, constructive disagreement is positive; it flatters those who do the disagreeing and those they disagree with. If you constantly agree with people, even people with opposing opinions, it’s clear you can have no worthwhile opinions of your own.

I suspect you’re so ready to stand in for other people that nobody knows who you really are or what you’re particularly good at; other than standing in for other people.

So they’ll go on taking advantage of your good nature by asking you to stand in for them, thinking that, since that’s what you’re best at, you’ll be honoured to be asked. And because you’re so nice, you’ll pretend that you are – which nicely ensures that you’ll be asked again.

Decide on what you’re best at; mark it out as your territory and discourage trespassers.

Is there any real difference between strategy and planning?

Planning is what you need to do before settling on a strategy. And what you need to do when challenging that strategy. And what you need to do before modifying that strategy.

Planning is continuous; strategy provides a brief, necessary moment of simulated certainty.

‘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