CLOSE-UP: On The Campaign Couch ... With JB

Q: I am a commercials director. I made a lot of money in the

eighties and nineties creating very stylish, expensive images with lots

of special effects. Now nobody wants me or my enormous style anymore.

They all want hideously-lit scenes of two badly-dressed proles in a

kitchen eating noodles. Should I change my name to something Swedish,

fire my cameraman and buy a camcorder?

No. Long before you make a name for yourself as Europe's premiere noodle

director, badly-lit noodle eating will have gone out of fashion. Imagine

the embarrassment of trailing your reel of hundreds of hours of

badly-dressed proles eating badly-lit noodles round hundreds of

contemptuous agency producers, all of whom are now mindlessly in love

with a technique called Kiotan Zincography; which they adore as it

imposes on even the crassest of scripts a fine top-dressing of eastern

incomprehensibility. (The first three commercials to use KZ all got into

The Book, and one of them was for Toilet Duck).

What you should do is not follow but lead. You must anticipate the next

craze; and if you like, I'll tell you what it will be. There will be a

return to sincerity, post-post-modern, right through ironic

self-referential and out the other side - into the cool, green pastures

of childlike innocence and unselfconscious advocacy.

As with all portrayed sincerity, it will demand contrivance of the

highest order to achieve. And if you are who I think you are, there's

not the slightest chance that you'll be able to achieve it.

Instead, I suggest you put your earlier experience to good use by

offering to audit other directors' production estimates for clients,

charging a percentage of everything you save. It's a sort of living -

and you can hardly be more friendless than you are now.

Q: We have been asked to work on a great piece of entertainment business

without a pitch. The only problem is that the client has also retained a

burnout from the advertising industry as a marketing consultant. This

individual never rose far enough to head an agency; co-wrote a

deservedly unread book on marketing strategy; has a wife who has done

much better than him; and still has an inflated impression of his own

self-worth. He is making life very difficult for us. The marketing plan

he has written is O-level stuff and he vetos any suggestion that we

make. What should we do?

I think I know the man you mean. If I'm right, his dominant

characteristic is an unlimited capacity for self-deception. And when I

say unlimited, I mean unlimited. It is impossible to overestimate this

person's uncritical adulation of self. Irony, sycophancy, flattery and

obsequiousness go undetected; indeed, are serenely accepted as just and

objective appraisal. And in that fact lies the seeds of your


Do not take issue with his O-level marketing plan; instead, praise it

with shameless extravagance, praise it repeatedly, by phone, fax and

e-mail - and always with open copies to your client.

Describe it as the all-important catalyst, the grit in the oyster, the

inspirational insight that liberated the imaginations of your creative

people. Then do exactly what you wanted to do all along, making sure

that your recommendations contain at least six of the words used by the

consultant in his marketing plan.

If your work is good, the client will be delighted and the consultant

smug. But remember the words of Harry Truman: 'You can accomplish

anything you want in life, provided you don't mind who gets the


Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director

of Guardian Media Group and of WPP, and the president of NABS. He writes

a monthly column for Management Today. A more serious look at problems

in the workplace, it both inspired and complements On the Campaign

Couch. Address your problems to him at Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Road,

London W6 7JP. Or e-mail


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