Q: I've noticed political party leaders drag their other halves
around with them. There's obviously something in this so I was
wondering, as agency chairman, would there be any value in taking my
wife along to my next client meeting or pitch. She could sit at the back
of the room grinning inanely and occasionally clap at our best ideas.
What do you think?
A: I think you're in the wrong job.
You liken your role as chairman of an advertising agency to that of a
political party leader. But about the only common qualification the two
jobs demand is the ability, on a daily basis, to claim conviction on
matters about which you are uncertain and knowledge of matters of which
you are ignorant.
From the beginning of their dismal careers, politicians recognise the
importance of an acceptable partner. Constituency associations insist on
interviewing them. Marriages are entered into for no other reason.
Since voters come in a variety of genders, the well-equipped politician
likes to cover off at least two of them. Bill Clinton, speaking of
Hillary, boasted that the American nation was getting two for the price
of one. None of the above is true for advertising.
In advertising, tactical use of chairmen's wives should be restricted to
social occasions with top clients, preferably those newly arrived from
abroad. Advertising wives can become indispensable friends to top
clients' wives, thus achieving account security without having to go
through that always nerve-racking business of getting the advertising
There was, as it happens, a very recent vacancy for a political party
leader. Perhaps you and your wife should have applied?
Q: My client is adamant that in every ad we make for him, he should see
his target market enjoying his product in loving close-up ... to the
exclusion of all else. When challenged on this, he simply sticks his
fingers in his ears and goes "La, la, la, la, la". There must be some
way I can get through to him. But how?
A: As I'm sure you know, part of the art of ju-jitsu lies in the
utilisation of an opponent's energy for your own gain. So, when he hurls
himself upon you, you do not attempt to repel him; instead, you
contribute to his momentum so that he flies harmlessly over your
shoulder to land in the corner as a crippled heap. I can tell from your
use of the word "challenge" that you have not been employing this simple
technique on your recalcitrant client. No wonder he sticks his fingers
in his ears.
From now on, agree with your client about everything. Indeed, encourage
him to go further and further down his preferred path. Deny him the
pleasure he undoubtedly derives from defying you by conceding
everything. Get your creative group to recut some old ads devoting a
higher proportion of screen time to loving close-up and target group
approval. Then get them to do it again.
There is nothing more disconcerting in life than a previous opponent
suddenly renouncing all opposition and welcoming every suggestion you
make without reservation.
Sooner or later, counter-resistance becomes inevitable: and when that
moment arrives, you will be well on your way to making better
Resist, however, your understandable temptation to crow. Credit should
go where credit is due: to your client, naturally.
Q: I've just arrived from Pluto (a funky new agency in New York) and am
convinced that everyone I meet in the advertising industry either has an
over-inflated ego or a large poker up their arse. Do you?
A: Had you been in this country for longer, you would have known that I
have for some 40 years now been impressing my modesty on all prepared to
listen. I shall ignore the question of pokers. Perhaps it would be best
for everyone were you to return to Pluto.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director
of Guardian Media Group and of WPP. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.