CLOSE-UP: On The Campaign Couch ... with JB

JEREMY BULLMORE, a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

On a postcard depicting a New York hotel, mysteriously franked with French stamps, an anonymous correspondent writes ...

Dear JB: My boss is young, successful and psychotic. His bosses are hard-eyed Yanks. And I'm the low-profile old pro brought in to keep the globo accounts happy. So far so good. I'm interested and amused. And clients and staff like what I do. Would I be right to assume that all this adds up to an imminent knife in the back from boss or Yanks or both?

Your concern is understandable but unfounded. Low-profile old pros enjoy astonishing levels of professional longevity.

Loved by clients and coalface workers alike, they remain imperturbably in place while wave after wave of psychotic high-fliers put on extravagant air-displays above them before burning out ingloriously on their 39th birthday.

Even hard-eyed Yanks appreciate the value of the low-profile pro. They will not tell you so, of course, and your salary will probably parallel your profile; but at least it will continue to be paid into your bank account. Your only risk is prominence.

So you must emulate Mr Cellophane from Chicago. Aim for absolute invisibility. Never, never imply that the retention of this mammoth global account is remotely dependent on your selfless skills: nothing arouses psychotic bosses and hard-eyed Yanks to vengefulness more instantly than inept attempts to leverage client relationships.

There is only one occasion on which you may safely seek a little corporate limelight and that is the occasion of your retirement party. Do not expect any senior member of your company to make the speech; they will only just have been installed and will be unsure of your name, let alone your contribution. Your own speech, however, should be a little masterpiece of indiscretion. Thirty-five years is a long time to hold your peace.

How do I stop our agency getting shirty when I reject one of their ideas, ask for refinement or suggest my own ideas? Although the account manager is, by and large, very charming I can almost hear him sigh whenever I suggest something. How can I get them to respect my point of view and be more enthusiastic without them behaving like some "master chef

whose recipes cannot be criticised or refined? We like their basic ideas, and we don't have the biggest budget, but the friction is getting intolerable. Should we just move on?

Your master chef analogy is apt and accurate. I once had an extremely courteous conversation with Simon Hopkinson after he'd refused to serve me with well-done duck. My own diffident view was that, as the paying customer, I should be entitled and indeed encouraged to eat the food that pleased me most. Mr Hopkinson demurred. Duck should be pink. All sensitive people knew that duck should be pink. If I wanted brown duck, I was welcome to patronise one of the hundreds of restaurants prepared to compromise their principles for cash -but he, Hopkinson, wasn't going to be one of them.

As I bet you know, behind your charming account manager there lurks an executive creative director who, while sharing Simon Hopkinson's sublime sense of certainty, notably lacks his talent. It is he who gives your account manager a hard time if he accepts one of your suggestions - particularly if it's a patently good one.

The only time that client ideas are listened to intently and incorporated eagerly is when the client is not a client at all but a potential client.

Remember this when you decide to move on; be prepared for the flattering openness of your initial meetings to be rapidly replaced by familiar shirtiness as soon as you've been snared. There must surely be a few agencies out there intelligent and confident enough to entertain an idea from a client as open-mindedly as from the creative director; perhaps they should be categorised separately by the AAR.


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