Q: I am a client with a pounds 25 million account and am conducting a pitch. Could you give me guidance on the propriety of accepting any of the multitude of proffered lunches, dinners etc.
I have two suggestions for you.
You could shut yourself in your office, with tuna-on-brown and the occasional pot noodle, until the last pitch is over and the decision made. That way, neither your colleagues nor the disappointed agencies will be able to suggest the slightest whiff of impropriety. Unfortunately, of course, you'll also have sacrificed your only opportunity to get to know the people you'll soon have to choose between.
The alternative is what you might call totally transparent profligacy.
Never travel this route alone - it can be dangerous. Always work as one of a pair and make sure that your other half is also on the judging panel.
What you do is set up a new website and make its address known not only to all long-listed agencies but also to the trade press. The site should take the form of a diary or calendar.
You make it clear that social invitations, though by no means mandatory, are perfectly welcome. Agencies may examine the online diary to determine which of your windows are still open and may book themselves in accordingly.
And every day, on the site, you and your sidekick log your activities: specifying names of hosts, hostelries visited, nature and quantity of intake, approximate expenditure and length of session.
It may add an inch or two to your waistlines, but you'll get to know the candidates all right; and with integrity intact. You might also, of course, earn something of a reputation as a bighead; but that's not always a disadvantage in marketing.
Q: I have just had a call from a journalist who tells me that I am leaving my agency. But my partners haven't said anything. Who do I believe and why?
This is no new problem. The competition for the perfidy prize between journalists and partners has always been a fierce one. But in this particular instance, I would be inclined to believe the journalist.
What you must do is try to turn this distressing incident to your advantage.
Success in this depends on your having at least one client who values your contribution - or at the very least is prepared to say he does.
Ring this client and tell him that rumours of your departure are about to appear in the press and that you want him to know that they are wholly unfounded.
He sympathises, expresses his appreciation of your work, confirms that he would indeed be displeased were you to leave the agency (don't be disturbed if he expresses this view without much conviction), and asks if there is anything he can do to help. 'No, no,' you reply humbly. 'I just felt it was only right to warn you.'
An hour later you call him back. You've been thinking. Speculation of this kind is damaging to all parties.
If his offer still holds, there is indeed something he could do: he could speak directly to the journalist in question.
When the story appears, it contains a ringing endorsement of your value from the client and a strong implication that were you to depart the agency, so might his business.
But why, you ask, would the journalist write such a story? Oh, come on! Just think what a charge it will give him to up-end the partner who fed him the story in the first place.
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.