Q: Dear Jeremy, I have been an account planner for about two years
and I am thinking of leaving the profession. This is because I am
increasingly being told that my job is to "defend the idea", even when I
think it's crap. Am I being too hasty?
A: As recently as 42 years ago, agency account executives were respected
figures, with opinions of their own, and trusted by their clients to
give dispassionate professional advice. Then, tyrannised by insecure
creative directors, they were persuaded that their job was no longer to
give dispassionate advice but to defend the idea, even when they thought
it was crap. This they reluctantly but dutifully did; and after a month
or two, even the thickest of clients began to notice. The individual who
was supposed to be representing their interest within the agency never
had anything to say about a piece of work other than it was fucking
off-the-wall wonderful. (The words might have varied very slightly, but
the sentiment was constant.) And so, within a very short space of time,
the account executive became no longer trusted as an advertising person
of independent judgment - and even agency managements recognised this as
a development with potentially serious commercial consequences.
So it was that they welcomed the otherwise extravagant suggestion that
they should institute a new agency function, that of Account
Account planners were to be rigorous and objective people, representing
not the agency, not the client and not even - as often claimed - the
consumer. Rather, account planners, clinical and incorruptible, were
there to represent The Absolute Truth: and clients were invited to trust
them absolutely. And so they did.
Until, that is, tyrannised by insecure creative directors, account
planners were persuaded that their job was no longer to give
dispassionate professional advice but to defend the idea, even when they
think it is crap.
Quite soon now, even the thickest of clients will have noticed. Their
valued account planner, that individual of independent spirit, that
representative of the absolute truth, has become yet another cypher.
Even agency managements will recognise this as a development with
potentially serious commercial consequences.
So, at last, to answer your question: you have a choice. Get out now
while a shred of self-respect remains. Or wait for the next guardian of
the faith to be invented and offer to be one. (It would help your cause
a great deal if you could think of an impressively dispassionate title.
Readers' suggestions welcome.)
Q: Ron Moss writes: Some weeks ago you very properly advised me to hire
this exceedingly beautiful graduate with the outstanding qualifications.
I took her on as my own PA, only to discover later that her Honours
Degree was bogus. When confronted, she confessed, but added she wouldn't
have got the job without lying. Then she added she'd read that some big
names in the agency world had got their breaks by lying about their
previous work (actually I could name a couple).
In anticipation of your next question, yes she's staying - she's an
undoubted asset to the agency. But it does raise an important point
about job applicants who successfully get away with false CVs. What are
your views on this?
A: Dear Ron, thank you for your kind enquiry. Your problems are the envy
of the advertising world. I once sat with a copywriter applicant while
we viewed his reel and was impressed by its quality - particularly when
we came to a commercial I'd written myself. I told him that his creative
judgment was excellent but the thoroughness of his research left much to
The difference between your exceedingly beautiful PA and my disingenuous
copywriter is that she falsified her qualifications to get her first
chance and he falsified his creative achievements to get more money.
It's a big difference. Tell her that if you ever catch her lying again,
- 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.