A: Like an astonishing number of clients, you have been gulled by the great agency confidence trick. You have allowed yourself to be persuaded that, because agencies are ostensibly creative, they are therefore delicate and sensitive organisms with all the explosive fragility of nitro-glycerine.
To ask them to comply with the simplest of commercial disciplines, such as coming in on budget, is to risk igniting tantrums of seismic proportions. Even to mention the word money is to confirm your own vulgarity and put paid for ever to your chances of that Big Idea that will catapult your product into brand leadership and your good self on to the main board. A few fashionable hairdressers exercise the same hold over their deranged clients and on just as flimsy a basis.
Your question contains its own solution, neatly phrased. Send the following letter this afternoon: "Dear Nigel: from today, no project may proceed until a written budget has been agreed and signed by me. Under no circumstances will this budget be subsequently negotiable, other than downwards. The slightest transgression will automatically trigger your company's dismissal. Cordially yours, Frank."
Take a deep breath. Repeat to yourself: "I am the client ... I am the client. Then do it. You'll feel absolutely wonderful afterwards and the world won't fall in.
Q: As a mature freelance creative of many years standing, I've sadly seen a lot of clients and agencies that previously gave me projects, go to the wall. Added to that, many of my friends in the business have retired. I dearly wish I could do the same, but I can't afford to. I need to re-invent myself and get back in among it. What do you suggest?
A: Your only mistake, if a thoroughly understandable one, has been to stay for far too long with a group of contemporaries with whom you felt supremely comfortable. That was fine when you were all in your twenties ... and thirties ... and even some part of your forties: a bunch of mates, clients and colleagues, chugging along, doing decent work, having a few beers, pretty certain where the next job was coming from - and even occasionally getting home on time. Now all your mates are falling by the wayside and your infrastructure's collapsed beneath you.
What you are, of course, is the victim of idiotic fashion; which is excellent news, because the thing about idiotic fashion is that it can always be turned to your advantage.
You and your mates have been unnerved and unseated by a new breed of teenage cowboy. Fuelled by limitless quantities of ignorance, impertinence and other people's money (and frequently egged on by crazed clients), they declared that, like cowgum and carbon paper, advertising was dead.
Today, these very same teenagers, now many of them pushing 23 and still as insubstantial as clingfilm, are themselves in trouble. What they desperately need is you.
Not the old you, of course. Not the cuddly, short-sleeved pullover you, but a reinvented you: wise and wily with a wizard's powers of alchemy.
Think movies; think insecure young director hiring octogenarian lighting cameraman. The director's reputation takes an immediate upsurge and an Oscar is merely a matter of time.
Conceal your contempt and you'll enjoy this role hugely. And however much you earn, you'll deserve every penny of it.
Q: I'm a new-business director with a client in every category. Yet I am expected to generate new business. How?
A: Stop whining and get on with it. There is no agency in the world with a client in every category.
- Jeremy Bullmore is 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.