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

Q: I am a marketing director whose main competitor is always using controversial advertising as a way of raising his own personal profile, appearing in the trade press and on TV; I suspect he encourages ever-more controversial advertising as a way of promoting himself. Consequently my boss is always dropping his name to me as an example of a dynamic marketer. Should I try to play him at his own game or settle for a lower profile and advertising that is right for my brand rather than my ego?

A: It's just as well that you've chosen to remain anonymous since there's a strong implication of libel contained in your question. What you suggest is that a professional marketing director (who, as your main competitor, would be instantly identifiable if your own name were known) consciously misdirects some millions of pounds of his company's marketing money in order to raise his own personal profile. Wow. Time for the lawyers to lick their lips.

Well, you may be right; but what I can't establish from your question is what sort of market you're both in. You make a clear distinction between controversial advertising and "advertising that is right for the brand".

But as you know very well, there are certain brands which, as part of their brand position, benefit greatly from controversial advertising.

These are the cock-a-snook brands: the fcuks, the Virgins and the easyJets.

If you're both in this sort of market, then it's your competitor who's being conscientious and it's you who's being irresponsible. If, on the other hand, you're selling Steradent, advertising that provokes Home Counties outrage is unlikely to help either your brand or your professional reputation.

Q: Having had a terrible time on new business I have finally got my agency on to a pitchlist only to discover that the process will be eight months long. How do I manage to look like I'm still interested?

A: Get some graduate trainee to identify 16 published articles that could feasibly have some remote relevance to your client's business. Write 16 compliment slips and date them into the future every two weeks apart.

Add the occasional cryptic comment: "... but what about Westinghouse?" or "Same old trap!!!" Then ask your PA to despatch one publication, complete with compliment slip, every other Friday. It will take you seven minutes in all and he'll be deeply impressed by your sustained concern.

Q: I was recently interviewed for promotion in my media sales job. Everything was going well until my boss told me to sell him his pen. I remembered that hoary old yarn, so broke it in two and said smugly "two for the price of one". My boss was totally unimpressed and sent me out. It turns out the pen was a gift from his wife. Now I'm worried I'll never get promoted. Please advise.

A: What challenges all understanding is how someone so dumb came to be interviewed for promotion in the first place. However, you ask for advice so here goes.

Your only possible recovery plan is dependent on your descending to new lows of deviousness and self-abasement. You must visit your boss' wife at home. You will have deliberately gone without sleep the previous night, your hair is tousled, your tie is askew and you've cut yourself shaving.

Beg her to spare you a few minutes: she holds in her hands your young family's future. (Show photos.) Describe in wild-eyed detail your catastrophic interview and plead with her to divulge the name and colour of the pen so that you may replace it. Finally, implore her to make no mention of this conversation to her husband.

You may be absolutely certain that she will; and furthermore, moved as she's been by your abject despair, will plead with her husband on your behalf. Entirely undeservedly, he will give you a second chance. Just don't screw it up again, that's all.

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 campaign@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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