A: Caspar Thykier writes: I've just started an agency with four
others. A new FTSE 100 client has approached us and says he'll give us
the business if we can crack the brief for the company's Christmas card
and fast. The client wants the card to wish everyone a merry Xmas,
launch their new range of mobile phone jingles, and change people's
perceptions of Christmas to stop them thinking of it as a white
Christmas to a blue one, to tie in with their new Corporate Identity.
How do we break the news that Christmas is meant to be a time of giving
A: Dear Caspar, thank you for your kind enquiry. I can understand the
hunger for business felt by any new agency but your continued interest
in this particular client smacks of desperation. You should have more
confidence in yourselves. It may be, of course, that your knowledge of
the reality makes confidence impossible; in which case, you must pretend
to be confident.
As a start-up agency, you have one never-to-be-repeated advantage over
your stodgy and established competitors: you can behave as if clients
need you more than you need them. So take your prospective client
through his Christmas card brief, pointing out in icy detail its many
faults and foolishnesses. Explain that, if his corporate brief were to
be anywhere near as muddled and self-serving, he would be wasting your
time and his money - of which the former is the more valuable. Then, as
you hand him his coat in reception, give him, with the compliments of
the agency, a specially designed Christmas card of exquisite simplicity.
You'll almost certainly win his business; at the very worst, you'll win
a hot reputation.
PS. If you don't have an art director capable of coming up with a
Christmas card of exquisite simplicity, your lack of confidence is fully
Q: Simon Marquis writes: What do you think modern Christmas card
etiquette should be? Sending clients unwanted cards smothered with
signatures of people they never meet seems daft, but then failing to
send any greetings at all seems a bit churlish and unseasonal. Your
counsel please, Your Guru-ness.
A: Dear Simon, thank you for your kind enquiry. You're right: year after
year, dozens of otherwise level-headed media companies send out cards
signed by the following: nine Vicki's, four Vicky's, six Nick's, seven
Lindsay's, Si, Lou, Jon and Gracie, 12 Amanda's, one Nigel - and a Patti
who puts a little heart-shaped dot over her final "i". It's either the
case that all agencies are staffed by exactly the same people or some
enterprising stationery supplier is now offering pre-signed cards as a
You could perfectly well get away with sending none. People only realise
they haven't had a card when they notice that somebody else has. By
sending none, you neatly avoid this divisive possibility.
But as a sensitive, cultured media person you will wish to do more. So
ask Vicki (or Jon) to go to the Royal Academy and/or the National
Portrait Gallery and buy a great many postcards of paintings by the most
obscure artists. Any suggestion of seasonal relevance should be avoided.
Now add mystic inscriptions.
Here are three for your starter pack: "as darkness lifts ...", "when
shall we weep ...?", "alone together ..." And sign them, "simply Simon".
Your reputation as a sensitive, cultured media man will be greatly
enhanced. Almost certainly.
Q: Martin Bowley writes: Please can you help me. I've finished writing
most of my Christmas cards but am stuck on how to address my old mate
Dominic Mills. Any advice?
A: Dear Martin, thank you for your kind enquiry. I suggest you write:
"Dominic - many congratulations on that award to you and everyone else
at MindShare. Seasons greetings, Martin."
He'll spend all year wondering what you said in the card that went to
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director
of Guardian Media Group and WPP. He also writes a monthly column for
Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day
at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address
your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com, or Campaign, 174
Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.