Q: My agency people have this irritating habit of using adspeak in meetings. "Having all our ducks in a row", "Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes", and so forth. What's the worst example of this vile language you've ever encountered?

A: The two you mention, along with the infamous crumbling cookie, are now hoary enough to have earned post-modern ironical status. And while I agree that invisible quotation marks don't excuse their employment, I find some of the new contenders even more offensive. For example, there's a whole batch of them much favoured by agencies when attempting to shame their clients into accepting self-indulgent and irrelevant advertising.

I tell you, Nigel - if we're to optimise our core competencies, we've got to go that extra mile. We need to push the envelope and raise the bar. We need a step change ... a paradigm shift. When push comes to shove, unless we're prepared to think outside the box, we'll never get cut-through.

So that's the bottom line, Nigel: are you and your board ready to step up to the plate on this one?

When faced with gibberish of this kind, you may safely reject the proposed advertising without further thought. It will be empty of value and, were it to be accepted, would cost you your job.

You might like to fight back with a few new cliches of your own. A judicious pause, followed by "Well, somebody's got to bury the undertaker", has been known to stun the most voluble of presenters into silence. Nobody has yet had the confidence to challenge this demonstrably true but otherwise totally meaningless observation. Do let me know how you get on.

Q: Like others, my agency has suffered financially in this advertising recession. As a result we resorted to inflation-only pay rises and redundancies. I fear that as the market shows signs of recovery and job offers begin to emerge, my staff's loyalty is at an all-time low. How can I prevent a stampede for the exit?

A: If you've always relied exclusively on above-average wages to attract and hold key staff, you have only yourself to blame when you lose them to other agencies for more money. Those are the rules you've invited them to live by.

You preach brand values to your clients. You need to practise them yourself.

As you concede yourself, you are not alone. Many other agencies will be sharing your fear. The only way you can all be losers is if you simply recycle the existing pool of talent with a 20 per cent mark-up. So now's the time to be ruthlessly selective. Show courage and flair. Stop feeling defensive and take the initiative. Continue your cull of the over-priced and under-talented and hire a couple of genuine stars from other agencies.

This will improve your performance, improve your profile and cause the best of your existing staff to pause and consider. Build your own brand.

Most advice is a great deal easier to dish out than to act upon. Above is an excellent example of this truth. I wish you luck.

Q: You recently answered a question about the line-up for an ideal start-up. Don't you think there are enough agencies around already?

A: How happy you would have been in the Soviet Union. In a perfect world, of course, we wouldn't need any agencies at all. As everybody knows, good wine needs no bush. But just occasionally, when state planning unaccountably failed, and there was either a surfeit or a shortage of groundnut oil, some state-owned communications agency might have to be called in to equalise supply and demand.

If you alone know how many agencies is enough, which should be preserved, which should be put down and on what criteria, then maybe you should go on to reform the House of Lords.

- 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 or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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