D&AD: Close-up - On the campaign couch with Jeremy Bullmore

Q: Vikram Sood e-mails: Hi, Mr Bullmore, I am from India, a writer participating in the D&AD workshop. Every agency creative I show my portfolio to says "make ads I can flip through". Are only visual ads acceptable because creative directors do not want to spend time seeing a copy-led ad? Also, aren't we killing our own future?

A: Dear Vikram, thanks for this. In advertising - as in film-making and politics - you need to be clear about an important distinction. How you earn the chance to do something may be very different from how you make the most of that chance when you get it.

This may sound like cynicism but it's only harmless realism.

You'll never be commissioned to make a full-length feature film on the strength of a 300-page treatment. Nobody has the time to read it and not everyone will even understand it. You need to master the art of the 30-second pitch: "Danny de Vito and Arnold Schwarz-enegger as twins."

No political party will get itself elected by publishing a 35,000-word manifesto. To win votes, you need to simplify your arguments and present them attractively.

But as soon as the film-makers and the politicians have been given the green light, they should both revert to the far more complex business of putting their ideas into practice.

So it is with your book. Look on it primarily as an advertisement. Make sure it contains ads that work like good posters: instant communication through complementary use of words and images. You will need this skill in the real world, anyway.

But by all means include a copy-led ad or two. You might be lucky enough to be interviewed by a creative director with the time and the good sense to appreciate them.

The moment you land your first job, the aim of your work changes: no longer to advertise yourself but to advertise your clients' brands. That's a huge difference. And that's when you can explore and expose your full range of styles and techniques.

Q: Julia Dempsey writes: Dear Jeremy, I have heard stories of young creative teams employing novel tactics to get noticed. For example, a team camping outside an agency for a week and posting creative propositions through the door. My question is: when does enthusiasm become an annoyance, and where do you draw the line between keenness and harassment?

A: Dear Julia, If you're thinking about going in for a bit of self-promotion yourself, you should go through exactly the same planning process that any good professional would go through when designing a promotional campaign for a real client.

Who, exactly, are you trying to impress? You know what they can do for you: they can give you some work. But what can you do for them?

Put yourself in their shoes. If you ran an agency, how would you feel about stepping round a pair of unshowered bodies every day for a week - and watching your clients having to do the same? You might admire their enthusiasm, their commitment, their perseverance: but I bet you wouldn't appreciate their wit, their originality, their problem-solving skills - or their ability to understand other people's needs and feelings.

And, of course, all these last attributes are exactly what agencies hope to find in anyone they hire.

If you can draw attention to yourself with style and originality, at all times exhibiting both inventiveness and empathy; if you can display demonstrable evidence of a talent that could be of commercial use to that agency - then you'll certainly advance your career prospects.

But anyone who believes that you can bludgeon your way into being employed would be wise to choose another career path. Pugilism, perhaps, or pile driving.

Q: Mital Daya e-mails: Dear Jeremy, From your vast experience, has there been a single piece of design/advertising that has left an impression on you, on an emotional level. How did you react after perceiving it?

Did the piece of advertising achieve its desired objective?

A: Dear Mital. I don't suppose you care much for research and researchers, but here's a parable attributed to a researcher that could change your whole approach to design and advertising for the better.

Alfred Politz was a distinguished American researcher and he told this story: A man was showing a friend three exceptional mirrors, all mounted on a wall facing windows looking out over parkland. At the first mirror, the friend said: "What a wonderful mirror!" At the second mirror, the friend said: "What a wonderful frame!" And at the third mirror, the friend said: "What a bloody marvellous view!"

Some of the very best advertising is transparent. You don't look at it; you look through it.

So you don't think: "What a fantastic ad!" You think: "Wow, can't wait to get my hands on that pint!"

Vain creative people don't much like this interpretation of advertising.

They believe that ads are an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. Clients, however, (without whom there would be no advertising) like this interpretation of advertising very much indeed. It's exactly why they spend money on it. Sorry, I haven't answered your question.

Q: Alex Parrott e-mails: Dear Jeremy, Having been out of work for the past three months, I have found salvage at Nabs, using their excellent careers exchange as a base for job- hunting and letter-writing.

Although this is a great resource, it surely can't help everyone. Do you think that the creative industries are doing enough to support people like me?

A: Dear Alex, I'm glad (but not surprised) that you find Nabs helpful; they're one of the better bits of our weird and wonderful trade. But even Nabs can't guarantee you a job; they can only help you with contacts, counsel, facilities and confidence.

The rest of my advice will remind you of that colonial uncle of yours who always turned up at Christmas, lectured you on the importance of self-reliance and clean shoes and insisted that you all stood to attention when the Queen spoke on television.

A bit like the acting business, the advertising business (and all the other chaotic creative things we do) attracts a great many more applicants than it can possibly absorb; and for the same reason. It's one of the few ways of earning a living that involves words and pictures and film and ideas and the intense competition of a good board game and engaging colleagues who defy any sort of easy categorisation and the thrill of the chase and freedom from grades and the prospect of early recognition if your talent earns it.

As a result, a bit like the acting business, there will always be more people looking than jobs going. The acting industry doesn't, can't and shouldn't "support" an unlimited number of aspirants. Exactly the same goes for the creative industries. Advertising and related trades can never offer job security. If they tried to, they'd lose much of their magic.

Sorry, Alex, it really is up to you (and luck) and no-one else.

Q: John Balmond writes: What is the perfect approach to write an advertisement? Is there a checklist that needs to be completed?

A: No. But see my answer to Julia Dempsey above. If you're obsessive about looking at everything through the eyes of your audience, you'll automatically get most things right.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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