Close-Up: On the campaign couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, as a marketer should I be wasting my time reading Campaign when I haven't yet read my own industry's trade title?

A: What a revealing question. Why do you think (or pretend to think) that reading Campaign is a waste of time? I'll answer for you. You're one of those marketing people who harbour a guilty fascination for the advertising village. You read Campaign furtively, as though it were Asian Babes. When a colleague approaches your desk, you slide it under a month-old issue of Farinaceous Foods Weekly which you have yet to open. You are a great deal more interested in marketing communications than in marketing. You are not in the least interested in farinaceous foods.

So it is these days with many marketing directors. They are mobile mercenaries, happy to apply their skills to any enterprise in need of a bit of front-page fame. From Bacardi Breezers to Bristol Zoo, they'll take it on - knowledge of product known to be immaterial.

This is a perfectly respectable way to earn a living and I don't know why you're so ashamed of it. You should carry on reading Campaign, but from now on openly; and insist your agencies read Farinaceous Foods Weekly from cover-to-cover, and provide you with a brief digest.

Q: Dear Jeremy, my boss talks like a marketing textbook with beautifully poised sentences about marketing architecture and strategic competitive advantage. It sounds highly intelligent but when I think about our conversations afterwards I realise I haven't understood a word he's said, though I'm always too embarrassed to admit it. Sometimes I wonder if he's saying anything at all. What should I do?

A: You should never be embarrassed by an inability to comprehend the incomprehensible. What should cause you embarrassment, however, is your pretence of comprehension. You know perfectly well that your boss is talking pretentious inanities.

He knows this, too; but clings to the hope that, even if he doesn't understand what he's saying himself, it might still contain some profound truth discernible to others. By pretending to understand him, you encourage him to prolong this self-delusion.

I bet you he works in the marketing department of a vast financial institution.

Financial institutions have for centuries insulated themselves from healthy scrutiny through the use of their own opaque argot. As a result, they hesitate to challenge the argot of others, knowing better than anyone the commercial value of unintelligibility. Many's the marketing poseur who's found lifetime refuge in some annex of a labyrinthine money company.

Next time your boss gives you that marketing architecture bit, say: "How would you put that in people terms, Dennis?"

Q: Dear Jeremy, I think I'm lagging behind my peers because I haven't yet written an advertising or marketing book. Are there any areas of the business that you think could be ripe for another tome?

A: No.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I am an account director and I have recently been interviewing at a big creative agency. However, at the third interview I was seen by a couple of muppets who couldn't think of an original question if they were the first people alive - hence I wasn't asked back. How can I make sure I interview with people who make the decisions in future?

A: It's odd you found the absence of original questions a disadvantage. Most people prefer to face unoriginal questions for which they have well-rehearsed spontaneous answers. I suspect you see your proper place in life being behind the desk, not in front of it; not an interviewee, but rather one of nature's interviewers. This will obviously serve you well later in your career; but for now, try a little feigned humility.

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


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