A: Oh, what a moral maze you find yourself lost in. Not that you're alone, of course. The predicament you describe will be painfully familiar to every suit who ever sold a dodgy script.
Let me take you through your question bit by shameful bit; then ask you to concede its inherent duplicity; and finally challenge you to decide once and for all exactly what kind of account executive you plan to be for the rest of your uncertain career.
You're saddled with this commercial that you honestly feel is average at best. In other words, it's sub-average. Undeterred by your own judgment, you enthusiastically recommend it to your client. This is a client, may I remind you, who chose your agency on the promise of the highest-quality creative material; who will spend the best part of a million quid making and transmitting this commercial; and who's been encouraged to trust you, as an individual, to put his interests before all else.
And now, having effected this fraudulent sale, you're tempted to ease your conscience by telling the creative team - though not, I note, your client - that you think it's a steaming pile of mediocrity.
You cannot feel warm and wonderful about this. Something's got to give. And the first thing you could discard is any belief in the value of your own creative judgment.
Let "the agency view" be formed with absolutely no input from you. Your job is simply to accept the agency view unquestioningly and represent it to the best of your persuasive abilities. This course of action liberates you completely from any sense of guilt or hypocrisy.
It also means, of course, that you have consciously decided, as an advertising person, to take no further part, ever, in the discussion and evaluation of advertisements: a decision you might come to regret.
Your only other alternative is to say what you think at all times and to all parties. You may wish to employ different words when talking to different parties: "a steaming pile of mediocrity" is perfectly OK for your creative team but probably better expressed as "there's still plenty of potential here for fine-tuning" when making the same point to your client. Your life will be a lot more eventful this way - but at least you won't dislike yourself as much. And you'll still be in advertising.
Q: Dear JB, I graduated last June from a multi-disciplined course and now want to go into advertising. I live in the right place, I'm good at what I want to do, I even have an award and have been told by an industry proffessional (sic) who I admire that I will go very far. However, I don't have a partner! I've been working on a few freelance pieces and it hasn't hindered me but trying to get a job or even experience is proving hard. Is it possible to go into the industry on my own? Can you give any advice?
A: It's 50 years since it was first suggested that writers and art directors, rather than inhabit segregated ghettos separated by three flights of stairs, might be more productive were they actually to meet and work together.
So successful did this suggestion prove that the custom has now become a restrictive practice. It's self-evidently absurd that today's agencies should be interested only in creative teams and be structurally and philosophically unable to accommodate even the most talented of individuals. Give me a day or two to think - and I'll try and say something helpful next week.
- 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.