Close-up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My fellow agency directors have asked me to combine the chairmanship with my existing role as executive creative director. They claim they want to send a signal that creativity is at the heart of everything we do but I smell a rat. I'm worried I'm being bounced into a non-job and that the board wants a headline-grabber to run the creative department. What should I do?

A: The fact you smell a rat suggests to anyone blessed with unusual perspicacity (such as myself) that you and your board don't enjoy a relationship based on unquestioned trust. The truer this is, the more you must keep your suspicions to yourself. Exhibit sublime assurance.

Thank your colleagues for their vote of confidence and accept the dual role gracefully. After a couple of months, your fears are realised: your CEO unilaterally appoints some headline-grabber to run the creative department.

This is your moment of truth, your testing time.

Your first instinct will be to throw a hissy fit. Yet chairmen, remember, should exude maturity, sagacity and coolness under fire. At a stroke, therefore, you will not only have been stripped of your creative authority but will also have demonstrated that you're totally unfit to be chairman.

From two roles to no roles - and all your fault.

Instead, become lofty. Welcome the young headline-grabber with lunch at the Connaught. Chair an industry committee into obesity and invite your most profitable client to join it. Get someone to ghost you an article for the Financial Times. Build your own brand - and you'll have immunity for life.

Q: As a client never before involved in a pitch, I'm relying heavily on the services of a consultant. He's shown me a dozen showreels by agencies he thinks might be suitable for me. All are slick and expensively produced. But are they triumphs of style over substance and should I pay them much heed when drawing up my shortlist?

A: Agency showreels are like photographs in telephone boxes. They promise more than they can possibly deliver. With artful selection and editing - and with occasional recourse to account-loss amnesia - any agency in the country should be able to assemble a mouth-watering showreel. Look at them by all means, if only as an animated account list, but do not let yourself be seduced.

Instead, ask your consultant to extract from each of his recommended agencies at least one example of work done for every single account handled by that agency within the past 12 months. Tell your consultant what he should already know: showreels are not only factitious; they are now also an anachronism. If a shortlisted agency's creative credentials are totally dependent on television, you may safely make your shortlist even shorter.

Whatever your media mix at the moment, you'll need future access to everything.

(Pitching agencies are often curiously coy about their mastery of radio, for example. I wonder why? Do ask if you may listen to some.)

Then phone around a bit. Existing clients of candidate agencies are usually only too happy to give you an off-the-record low-down. Delve into those back-of-house factors that can all too often erode the best of everyday relationships: do they listen; do they get their invoices right; do they come in on budget; do they come in on time?

If you're attempting to conduct your review in total secrecy, you won't.

So don't. Your existing agency will hear about it anyway, which won't improve either their morale or their work. The first thing your possible future agencies will learn about you is that you practise deceit with your suppliers. You'll be cornered into misleading the trade press, who will later return to embarrass you publicly. And you'll severely limit your freedom to use all the parish-pump, water-cooler, hot gossip networks that can be so invaluable when making this extremely difficult and important decision.

- 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.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus