Q: I am an account director at a large agency and find that the account department is always on a war-footing with the creative department and vice versa. Since we are all on the same side, what can I do to convince the creatives of this?
A: What makes you think that you're all on the same side? Yes, of course, you should be. And once upon a time, you were. Once upon a time, the phrase 'account group' signified all members of the team working for the good of the advertiser - media, creative, the lot. Today it means only the suits - and, just occasionally, a domesticated planner or two.
What happened was the coming of mass insecurity. Faced with insecure account directors, who habitually cowered behind their clients when making the mildest of comments about creative work, insecure creative directors, desperate to maintain authority in the eyes of their troops, resorted to open warfare. To concede so much as a comma in a television script was evidence of spinelessness. To demand a production budget of a million from an annual appropriation of three was evidence of a fearless commitment to the altar of creativity. Before very long, many creative reputations were based a great deal more on bloody-mindedness than on brainpower.
And since it is a great deal easier to be consistently bolshie than consistently inventive, the fashion found favour: to the point where no agency without a famously anarchic figurehead could hope to be counted creative.
So stop trying to convince your creatives that you're all on the same side. Instead, continue to employ all the time-honoured account executive techniques of flattery, bribery, lies, coercion, blackmail and deceit. Either that, or hire a creative director who's confident enough to agree with a client when the client is clearly right.
Q: I am a middle-ranking account director at a large agency. Recently, I was asked to present the plans for a major new product to the client's new managing director, who happens to be German. In enquiring as to the number of symbols on the package which represent the enzymes of the product's biological efficacy, the client asked: 'Why are there not so many sperms on the package?' Neither my senior colleagues nor any of the other clients seemed inclined to correct him, so the rest of the meeting was conducted employing this terminology. Was there anything I could have done to prevent this without taking career-terminating action?
A: What a lot of sillies you are. I thought people stopped finding sperm funny by the time they realised what it was for. And, of course, you have made it all the more difficult for yourselves by joining in.
What you should have done was exclaim, immediately, as soon as he said sperm for the first time: 'Ah! Exactly! That is what those symbols are! You are quite right! But in this country, we are not as sophisticated as you are in Germany. Focus groups tell us that many of our core consumers find the word sperm acutely embarrassing. So in this country, we have to call those symbols elgs.' This, at a stroke, would have preserved your client's self-esteem and guaranteed you early promotion.
Instead, you must now undertake a laborious recovery exercise. I recommend a 16-page document, ostensibly from the appropriate directorate in Brussels, headed The Use of the Word Sperm and Detergent Semiology, which proscribes its use in this context throughout the European Union. You should invite one of your junior clients to draw this to the attention of their managing director. (A management summary in German would be a nice touch.)
Jeremy Bullmore writes a monthly column for Management Today. A more serious look at problems in the workplace, it both inspired and complements On the Campaign Couch. Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director of Guardian Media Group and of WPP, and the president of NABS.