A: I remember a time when the agency I worked for had three very different clients with only one thing in common. They all, as part of their voluminous brand portfolios, had a bottled mineral water. The crucial task of matching the meeting room mineral water to the respective client meeting was assigned to one highly paid home economics graduate: she often had no more than minutes to remove the offending Malvern water and pull out the Pellegrino - or indeed, vice versa. Though nerve-wracking at times (and more than once betrayed by a wayward empty), this seemed no more than common courtesy. Less forgivable, it seems to me, is tiresome client insistence on the exclusive consumption of their brand on all social occasions: even when their brand is actually drinkable. Is your client small-minded in other ways as well?
There's one ruse you might try. It will certainly work but has a built-in drawback. Remind your client that word-of-mouth can work both ways; so suggest that you make a habit of ordering almost anything but his brand - and then, after significant consumption, complain loudly enough for all in the pub to hear about quality, price and after-effect. (Feel free to describe this process as viral if it makes you feel contemporary.)
The drawback, of course, is that any product in direct competition with your client's is likely to be at least as poisonous.
Q: I'm about to go into battle with a major client's new Resource Facilities & Services Procurement Controller. He's never been exposed to an ad agency before. How do I begin to explain what we're all about?
A: Invest, if you haven't already, in all ten volumes of Advertising Works!. (There may be even more: check with the IPA.) Add Simon Broadbent's Accountable Advertising and everything written by Professors Andrew Ehrenberg and John Philip Jones. Before your first meeting with the Controller, crate them all up and send them to him. Your enclosed note should suggest a two-day review meeting to agree evaluation principles.
Remember that long copy in pharmaceutical advertisements is there not to be read but to impress.
Q: I slept with the boss after the Christmas party. Was this unwise?
A: Yes, very.
Q: I slept with one of my staff after the Christmas party. Was this unwise?
A: Yes, but not very.
These two correspondents may or may not be connected, if you take my meaning, though I'm assuming they are. I'm also assuming, for the sake of simplicity, that you, the boss, are a him and the member of staff is a her. But even if this is a Mrs Robinson scenario, or indeed a single-gender scenario, the intrinsic asymmetry remains.
Droit du seigneur may no longer be prevalent; but in any casual coupling of this kind, the seigneur equivalent, however indefensibly, will still find the cards heavily stacked in his favour. He will use his status, his executive power, his relative remoteness to put distance between him and this isolated incident - when, as he persuasively puts it to himself, his entirely laudable desire to demonstrate managerial approachability was regrettably taken advantage of. Within days, that distance will have erased the incident from his short-term memory altogether. Incident? What incident?
However cool and independent she may be, no such consolations are available to her (or indeed to him, if it's Mrs Robinson at work). In all encounters of this kind, the hierarchically inferior, irrespective of sex, are always at a serious disadvantage: which is why the unwisdom of the one was far greater than that of the other. I'm really sorry about that.
- 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.