CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: When I first became a creative director, I often used to meet the CEOs and MDs - let alone the marketing directors - of client companies to talk about their advertising. These days, I rarely get to see the decision-makers. Is this just me, or are creative people generally less valued by clients?

A: Think for a moment about the things that CEOs think about. They think about the cost of raw materials, the cost of money, the greed of retailers, the senility of their packaging line, the parochialism of their international president, that new product launch by a competitor, the Health and Safety Bill and the ludicrous targets they've been set by Chuck Rebozo. Only then may they start to think about marketing ... and then advertising ... and finally advertisements.

Once upon a time, creative people could put up a reasonable show of being interested in most of the matters that preoccupy clients. They behaved as if the work they did was connected with, and could contribute to, a client's business hopes. Today, creative people have become almost entirely de-coupled from the business of business. They start taking an interest when given a one-line brief for an advertisement and only get truly engaged when occupying the post-production suite for a day and a half.

If senior clients sense that an agency's definition of creativity is now so limited, why should they waste their time talking to creative people?

Q: Sir Martin Sorrell has said that we have moved into the Age of Creativity. (It's not what you know that's important, but what you make of your knowledge.) If this is true, why is it that creative people seem to be so undervalued by British business?

A: See above.

Q: A creative director writes: Recently, I found fault with the proposal that the creative department should be dismantled and our creative teams dispersed throughout the building (to make the entire agency a creative department). The architect of this plan snarled at me: "You're so conservative, so reactionary. A typical creative, in fact." What on earth did he mean?

A: The first thing you should do is show this organisational architect how to make 100 units of red ink. First, take two containers. Into one, you pour 25 units of red ink and into the other you pour 75 units of tap water.

Then you pour the red ink into the tap water and stir well. "Look," you say to the architect, "we now have four times as much red ink as we started with and it hasn't cost us a penny." The architect's brow furrows. "This red ink seems very pale," he says. "This seems to me more pink ink than red ink. I don't think this ink will have much impact."

If this architect of yours is as dim as he seems, you will then, laboriously, have to interpret your parable for him. Only then may he finally grasp the consequences of dilution.

But even this petty victory still leaves you open to the charge of conservatism; and here, I'm sorry to tell you, the man has a case. Behind the worldly wit, the contempt for research and the effortless arrogance, most good creative people nurse an insecurity that borders on terror. They're frightened of adults, frightened of growing up, frightened of failing to have an idea and even more frightened of failing to have another idea. (Why else do they fight so mindlessly in defence of the idea that's just been so comprehensively disproved and rejected?) And they are, it follows, deeply frightened of change.

All healthy cultures need a few reactionaries; if only to challenge the pernicious conviction that all change is good. Your own resistance to the architect's plan is an excellent case in point. But for all the brave talk about pushing moulds and breaking envelopes, you're a cautious lot at heart.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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