Q: I'm a client and my new campaign has just been banned by the TV
regulators for being offensive and misleading. I signed off the work but
had some reservations, which I expressed at the time, though admittedly
not very loudly. Should I take full responsibility or make my agency
A: Clients need to make up their minds early on in life which kind of
client they want to be: absolute bastard or agency groupie. There are no
half measures. You show every sign of wanting to be an absolute bastard
but not quite having the bottle for it. As a consequence, you come
across as feeble: a view your agency will certainly share.
You say you expressed some reservations, though not very loudly. Bastard
clients don't have to express things loudly in order to be obeyed.
Having expressed these reservations, you then signed off the work.
Bastard clients have the welcome virtue of consistency: they'd never
express unease and then wimpishly ignore their own misgivings.
If you want, however belatedly, not only to earn the respect of your
agency but also to relieve them of uncertainty, now's your
The true bastard wouldn't hesitate. Don't go into detail; don't argue
the case; don't concede the smallest jot of responsibility. Just make
The alternative is to settle for a lifetime career as an agency groupie
- thus sacrificing the respect of your main board for an infinite number
of agency lunches. It's not a bad option for the unambitious.
Q: We recently pitched for a piece of business to be told we hadn't won
it as the client had seen a better creative idea. Fair dos but bugger me
we've just seen their new campaign up on the hoardings and it's all but
the idea we presented. What should we do?
Q: I'm a relatively junior creative and worked on a pitch over the
weekend at home. My mum looked at my work and said it was a load of old
nonsense. She came up with an idea that was not only clever but my
creative director patted me on the back for producing a "pitch winner".
I'm not worried about nicking my mum's idea but do you think "real"
people know more about ads than we do?
A: Real people are even less able to make good advertising than creative
people. Both, however, suffer from a variant of the same disease: they
base all their ideas on other advertising.
Real people base their ideas on pre-war advertising and therefore favour
puns. So it is that, come spring, hundreds of real people send you the
same unsolicited idea for the lawnmower account you haven't got: CHOOSE
THE THORNTON ROTO-VAC - A "CUT" ABOVE THE REST! (Real people also favour
inverted commas: they are thought to help the slower-witted "get
Creative people, on the other hand, base their ideas on the most recent
D&AD book they can lay their hands on. Both real people and creative
people draw comfort from the misconception that, since their ideas look
like advertising, they must be good advertising.
Which brings me to your mother. Since your creative director applauded
it, it is inconceivable that your mother's idea was of the pre-war pun
variety: unless, of course, he took it to be a hilarious example of
post-modern, retro-neo-irony. The more likely explanation is that your
mother's idea accidentally echoed a recent award-winner. (The third
possibility, that your mother's idea was a genuine original, I dismiss
on the grounds that your creative director would certainly have failed
to recognise it.)
So it was probably a one-off fluke. But just in case, give her another
couple of briefs, anyway. If she keeps coming up with the goods, you've
got it made, man.
PS. With winter coming on, make sure your mother has a flu jab and keeps
well away from draughts.
- 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 email@example.com.