Q: I'm fed up paying 20 per cent headhunter fees for someone to sift through CVs of people who have returned from travelling, join us and then push off after less than a year. I know it's not just my agency as friends also have this complaint. Isn't there a better way to recruit staff?

A: Oh yes, there certainly is. In fact, I'd be hard put to think of a worse way to recruit staff. What we have at the moment is a closed-circuit system, rather like a central heating system, in which the same limited number of individuals circulates endlessly and airlessly. As with any such system, of course, some evaporation takes place (death, defection, emigration, expulsion) so occasional topping-up is necessary.

We top up from only two sources: universities and art schools. This ensures that the only new recruits welcomed by the advertising trade are those with absolutely no experience of anything likely to be of the smallest value to our clients. What training they receive comes from previous generations of novices, thus making sure that the purity of agency ignorance is never contaminated by contact with the real world.

Headhunters never search outside this system; and if they did, you'd reject their recommendations on the grounds that those outside the system have no experience. The opposite, of course, is true: the only people with no experience are those within the system.

You should be on the lookout for dissatisfied barristers, management consultants, newspaper people and theatrical agents. You should be on the lookout for those who have already shown that they can write and think and draw.

Under no circumstances should you hire clones of clients; clients have enough clones of their own already and will not thank you for presenting them with more when they visit your agency.

Look for individuality, diversity, eccentricity, inventiveness and brilliance. Look outside the system where the experience is.

Perhaps you wonder how to reach such people? Well, there's always advertising, I suppose ...

Q: A distant relation of a friend of a friend of a distant relation is interested in advertising and has asked me for help. Initially I was inclined to put them off, given my own experiences but actually on second thoughts, it actually is a cracking business. JB, in all honesty, given your time again, would you choose this industry above all else, and if so, what would be the chief reason?

A: In all honesty, I probably wouldn't. "Given your time again" is a beguiling beacon of a phrase. It lures you into a wonderland in which you can apply the knowledge you've acquired over the years to a reinstated innocence.

Real life doesn't let you do this.

So I expect that I'd think about being a world-famous saxophonist or portrait painter or geologist: while being happily ignorant of all the vexations that must surely plague even the most successful geologists, portrait painters and saxophonists.

When you compare a world you know with a world you don't, the world you know is likely to come off badly. So, given my time again, I'd probably not choose advertising.

Yet I can't, off-hand, think of any other trade that would pay me to think about all the things I'd want to think about anyway: about markets and economies and business and people and communications and choice and freedom and words and pictures and new technologies and competitive persuasion and the nature of progress and Toilet Duck and Sunny D and how to see through the eyes of others. I can't, off-hand, think of any other legitimate trade that is less deferential, less snobby, less conventionally respectable or more fun.

So, given my time again, I'd probably not choose advertising. But I'm pretty sure that I'd live to regret it.

- 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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