On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’ve always been passionate about what I do and am a true believer that you make your own luck. However, after years of denial, I have to accept that the agency I’m working for is tanking. After watching leadership teams come and go and implement strategies that fail to take off, while all the time top talent exits and individual workloads rise, my motivation has flatlined. After years of trying to be a force for good, I fear I am losing faith we can turn things around. Should I dig deeper and stay, or is there a time to know when to quit?

I want you to think of that intangible but unmistakable quality called authority – whether enjoyed by a company or an individual. It’s that sense of authority that is the basis for most sound reputations; earned reputations, the deserved rewards for demonstrable performance. And then I want you to compare and evaluate such reputations in terms of temperature: the hotter the reputation, the more admirable and valuable, while the opposite naturally applies. Now, remember the second law of thermodynamics – the one that decrees that when two bodies of different temperatures come into contact, heat always flows from the hotter to the colder until their temperatures are equalised.

Let’s take an example from our very own business. An unimpressive 30-year account executive with a personal thermal rating of four triumphantly lands a job at an agency with a thermal rating of eight. From the moment the two come into physical contact, imperceptibly but inevitably, the second law of thermodynamics swings into action. Some fractional part of the agency’s thermal rating drains into the account executive’s. The account executive’s personal authority is marginally enhanced; the agency’s authority, however immeasurably, is depleted.

Let’s take another. An agency with a thermal rating of four spends a fortune hiring an executive creative director with a personal thermal rating of eight. From the moment they come into physical contact, imperceptibly but inevitably, the second law of thermodynamics swings into action. Some fractional part of the ECD’s thermal rating drains into the agency’s until the equalisation process is completed. The ECD and the agency now share a thermal rating of five.

All this leads to the formulation of the first law of agency recruitment and training: never, under any circumstances, knowingly hire people whose personal authority, whose potential thermal rating, you believe to be lower than your agency’s; because, if you do, each hiring will constitute not a gain but a drain – and long-term decline becomes inescapable. (The second law of agency recruitment and training reads: "Anyone who relies on the authority of their agency to be effective is never going to be effective.")

I’m afraid it’s taken me some time to get to your question, but I hope you’ve begun to understand why. For years, your agency has failed to earn a respectable thermal rating; and your own, inevitably, has been handcuffed to theirs. You now have the hugely difficult task of persuading a higher-rating agency that, freed from bondage at last, you can at the very least help it maintain its enviable temperature. But you must try.

The client doesn’t understand that I am working on more than one account and, even after prioritising its work, it is still not happy. How can I help it understand that I have other deadlines too?

"Ladies and gentleman. I’ve had the honour of leading this agency for more than five years – and I can honestly say, should you decide to entrust us with your prestigious business, that it would be the proudest moment of my professional life. Let me assure you on behalf of the entire company that our commitment to your further success would be 24/7 – and I would ask you to hold me to that pledge on a very personal level. Thank you."

You may not remember your chief executive’s peroration at the end of the pitch that won you this business – but your client will. Why should your client care about your other deadlines? They’re your problem, not his.

There are some perfectly respectable reasons why clients benefit from being served by people who work on more than one account. Remind yourself of them; then share them with your client.

‘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