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

Q: I'm a young graduate and have been working in the post-room of a major ad agency for more than a year now. I am keen to get on in the industry, but how long should I wait to be promoted before approaching another agency? A: It was the summer of 1960 (or very possibly 1964) and the young lad from the JWT post-room used to visit my office several times a day even when he had no mail to deliver. This was because I had a television set in my room and he wanted to watch the Olympic Games.

I got to know him quite well and remember saying to his departmental head: "Mark my words, Harry, this lad will go a long way. Not only will he prove to be an outstanding account person and managing director, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he then went on to found his own agency, ending up with a knighthood."

Harry was unimpressed and the young lad very sensibly left for another agency. The sooner you do the same the better. Your departmental head has no interest whatsoever in securing your promotion. The better you are in the post-room, the less he'll want to lose you. And anyway, what can you do in the post-room that will impress upon management your brilliant potential as a mesmerising suit?

If Frank Lowe couldn't hack it, you certainly won't.

Q: My agency is so old-fashioned that it feels like going into a 50s government office every time I visit. I feel like putting the account out to pitch to wake them up. Should I?

A: Contrary to the belief of celebrity marketing directors, advertising agencies are not fashion accessories. Like advertising itself, they're best evaluated on performance rather than appearance.

Just how 50s is this agency of yours in its delivery? Has it noticed the arrival of independent television as an advertising medium, for example?

If so, that's quite encouraging.

Perhaps you find your agency courteous, thoughtful, methodical and accurate in its invoicing? 50s values all. How has your brand prospered under this agency's guidance? Has it shown itself to be surprisingly resilient in the face of some fairly flashy competition? If so, count your blessings - and simply avert your gaze from that copy of London Illustrated News in your agency's reception.

Trying to jolt a bunch of punctilious professionals into behaving like a bunch of cool cats will leave you with neither professionalism nor coolth.

On the other hand, if your brand's in trouble, you should be fretting about function, not fashion.

Q: We think one of our clients has called a pitch because they want to hire a cooler agency. Should we bother repitching?

A: Agencies cemented waist- deep in the past like to dismiss their nimbler competitors as mere fashionistas: it releases them from the exhausting contemplation of change. Anyway, the prevailing mood is one of back to basics. Serious times demand serious practitioners. The heat's gone out of cool, we all know that.

The trouble, me old mate, is that cool comes in two kinds. There's the cool of the ice-cream wafer; insubstantial, brittle and soon forgotten. Wafer agencies pose you no threat. And there's the cool of the ice-rink, where driven perfectionists deliver extraordinary performance with elegance, speed and effortless grace. Ice-rink agencies will dance a figure-of-eight round your client in the time it takes you to find your reading glasses.

If this is the kind of cool your client's gone looking for, chuck in the towel this minute and take up topiary.

Q: I'm a new-business director at a medium-sized agency and I've started going out with the new-business director at a rival agency. Do you think we should tell our bosses?

A: Yes.

- 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.

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