Dear Marc. How very good to hear from you. And how typically generous of you to seek to help this friend of yours. (Next time, do encourage him to write to me direct: I'm usually quite gentle and understanding with my more mature correspondents.)
I believe your friend is quite unnecessarily distressed. Indeed, I think he's almost certainly on to a very good thing. What he's clearly failed to register, along with almost everyone else in our business, is an utterly comical and internally contradictory pair of entrenched beliefs.
Both the following statements are held to be true.
Brilliant advertising ideas are generated exclusively by persons under the age of 26.
Only persons over the age of 55 are possessed of sound creative judgment.
To entertain both these beliefs simultaneously it is necessary to believe that brilliant creative people have no creative judgment and that people with impeccable creative judgment have no creative flair. Put like this, it doesn't seem very convincing, does it?
On the other hand, these dotty assumptions do present those approaching their autumnal years with a mouth-watering opportunity. They can say goodbye forever to the tyranny of the blank sheet of paper and the need to be brilliant by Thursday week.
Instead, they can set up in business as highly respected and handsomely rewarded creative inspectors: assessing and passing lofty judgment on the work of others. And that's what I believe your friend should do forthwith.
(He may never be quite as old as I am but he should keep trying.)
Anyway, Marc, enough of your friend: let's talk about you. What are you up to these days? Do let me know.
Q: I'm an account director on a large piece of business. I've been asked by my agency to take responsibility for the new-business department. Do you think this is a good career move?
A: New-business departments, and new-business directors, are the craven creations of feckless chief executives. Agency people like to think of themselves as professionals: like a Queen's Counsel or a neurosurgeon, for example. Yet how would they feel if either of the above hired full-time touts, themselves entirely unqualified, to drum up clients?
You have been invited to take responsibility for new business. You might like to reply that, since the responsibility for new business can reside only with the chief executive, you would be more than happy to accept their invitation.
There is certainly much useful internal work to be done: identifying opportunities, scanning the pages of the more reliable trade papers, tracking the progress of itinerant marketing directors, bullying overworked planners to produce thoughtful pieces of value to clients. But all external contact, and certainly all direct approaches, should be made by senior and respected working members of the agency.
You should do a bit of this as well as running your large piece of business; but don't let your CEO lumber you with the whole responsibility. That's his job, not yours.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.