A: Once upon a time, credibility was a by-product. If you were extremely knowledgeable and experienced and fleet of mind, you'd apply those characteristics to the cause of clients. And as they prospered, and as word spread, you'd slowly acquire hard-earned credibility: or authority, as it was more usefully known. Today, everyone's looking for short cuts. What we want is instant credibility, by-passing the arduous business of earning it in the first place. For the impatiently ambitious, I can recommend the internet. You have only to remember the number on your credit card (use of crib not only allowed but encouraged) for you to receive a handsomely framed Master's Degree in Marketing by return of post.
If the advertising business first learns more about the whole business of business, and then puts that knowledge to good purpose, it will regain its authority the legitimate way. But if it believes that the acquisition of a few more initials will instantly generate awed respect and higher margins, it will show itself to be even sillier than its consultant competitors dare to hope.
Q: I've recently come to London from abroad to run an agency founded by one of the UK's legendary admen. He's been my mentor and my inspiration. Now he's to retire. Should I keep calling him for advice or be my own person and leave him to his leisure?
A: Why do you think this legendary adman anointed you? Why, out of all the disciples on whom he might have laid his hand, were you the chosen one?
Let's look at some options. It's possible that he believed, as Mrs Thatcher believed of John Major, that mindless obedience would come naturally to you; and so, through the medium of your unprotesting self, he could continue to exercise remote control over the agency he founded. It's possible that he favoured you because, as a personality, he knew you would pose no competitive threat to his own legendary status.
It's possible; but it's also unlikely. Such motives would have revealed a man of such self-obsession - and with such a reckless disregard for the future of his own creation - that you could never have found in him that source of wisdom and inspiration you so openly acknowledge.
It is also possible that he saw you simply as a duplicate him; believing that, with no need for back-seat driving on his part, you would instinctively choose the paths that he would have chosen, champion the causes that he would have championed and fight the battles that he would have fought.
It's possible; but it's still not probable. Look at the proposition closely and you'll find it deeply flawed. This is a man who was, himself, nobody's duplicate. So the concept of a duplicate successor is a logical impossibility.
That can't be why he chose you.
No: as you must already sense, either your hero is undeserving of your worship; or he chose you to be as authoritative and free-spirited, in your own distinctive style, as he was in his. And to be frank (or rather, not to be), that's what you've got to do.
Q: I've seen an absolutely delightful pair of shoes in LK Bennett and the real beauty is they're on sale. The only problem is I'm a bloke. I've always believed advertising is an industry that applauds self-expression. Should I go and take a cold shower or get down to Long Acre before they close?
A: What on earth makes you think I'm qualified to deal with a question like this? As an elderly heterosexual who finds Austin Reed suits a fraction too flamboyant for office wear, I have no relevant experience on which to draw. I've no idea who you should be writing to but it's certainly not me, baby.
- 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 campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.