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

Simon Kershaw, the creative director of Keevill Lee Kershaw, writes: Dear Jeremy, My partners and I are intrigued by the fashion among our ad agency cousins for having "advisory boards". The main role for these advisors seems to be bringing fresh thinking and new perspectives to the agency from the worlds of business, academia and media owners. Sounds like a progressive idea. So our question is - what do you think? And if we were recruiting an advisory board, whom would you recommend? We hardly need say that you are top of our list! Dear Simon, many thanks, not least for that last bit. Let's run a beady eye over the whole of this advisory board notion and then see if I fit.

Over the past 30 years, advertising agencies are widely believed to have become more parochial and less in touch with business realities. There's truth in that belief. Most senior agency people have spent their whole lives in advertising and have no direct experience of a world elsewhere.

The demands of the business leave them little time for outside interests.

Thirtysomething years ago, J. Walter Thompson in London had five MPs on their payroll (4 Con, 1 Lab, 0 Lib): all of them working account executives. Does any agency house an MP today?

So the most valuable members of advisory boards are those who can open windows on to outside worlds; and let perspective, experience (and a great many new-business prospects) drift fragrantly in. I've never done anything but advertising. But many thanks for the thought.

Dear Jeremy, Has a client ever said to you: "It's my round, what are you drinking?"

Yes, they have: quite a lot. But that was a long time ago when I was masquerading as a copywriter or a creative director. As soon as I acquired a management title, the drinks stopped.

The explanation is this. Clients have an indulgent, almost protective attitude to creative people. Creative people are known to be sensitive, volatile and insecure. Some clients, particularly those most contemptuous of agency suits, fawn on creative people and long to be loved by them.

Since it's not the creatives' job to buy drinks for clients (even if they had access to an expense account, they'd be far too disorganised to keep the receipts), it follows that clients buy drinks for creatives. And so it was for me for 20 happy years.

Then, overnight, I became a chairman; and no client has bought me a drink since. As you can tell, the wounds are still raw.

Dear Jeremy, We heard recently that a creative director partnership is no more. Do you think that single or joint CDs are the best route?

Both can work, but single CDs are far more likely to be successful than joint. The trouble starts with teams. A creative team earns itself praise and promotion. A vacancy for the top job crops up - but who's going to be brave enough to split up the twins? Indeed, since they've worked so interchangeably together, who knows which of the twins is the more qualified?

And why risk losing the other? And doesn't appointing joint CDs spread the risk, spread the load, offer choice, appease both writers and art directors? Oh, how sensible and seductive it all seems. And so easy, as well.

Rogers and Hart created magnificent songs. Creative teams can create magnificent advertising. But creative teamwork and creative direction are different skills. No successful musical has ever been co-directed.

Creative directors have to make a dozen difficult decisions a day. They have to earn themselves respect and authority and then exercise it fearlessly.

Appoint two of them together, and that authority is instantly halved - a truth that can be smelt at a hundred yards by the lowliest member of their department.

- 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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