Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the managing director of a medium-sized agency. Last year, in a bid to "maximise profits" after a bit of a rocky patch, I took the decision to lay-off around 20 people. They took it reasonably well and left without too many tears, but just after they departed a large new account arrived, leaving us somewhat understaffed. Some of the people we "lost" would actually be ideal here, but I feel a bit embarrassed about offering them their old jobs back. Should I just move on and forget them?

A: You're right: as the managing director, your first duty must be to nurture your own reputation. You owe it to your company, your remaining employees and your clients. And, naturally, to yourself. Having so recently fired them, it could be deeply damaging to your personal standing and authority were you to invite some of your "lost" people (love the inverted commas!) to return.

On the other hand, you say they'd be ideal. And you're understaffed.

And your new account needs them. So the obvious solution to your problem is to engineer the return of these ideal workers in such a way that their original departure is revealed to be a piece of brilliant long-term strategic planning on your part.

Here is the start of the all-staff e-mail you should send.

To: Everyone.

Subject: Re-charging the Batteries.

As many of you will know, I am a passionate believer in the value of diverse experience. Too many of us in agencies live introverted lives, cocooned from the realities of commercial life and thus unable to counsel our clients with the depth and sensitivity they have every right to expect.

It was with this in mind that I last year implemented a trial scheme by which some 20 of our most talented and courageous people embarked on a period of intensified external exposure, rather in the manner of certain reality television programmes."

I'm sure you see where this is leading. Now that I've done the difficult bit, the rest should be a doddle, even for you.

It's true, of course, that you'll delude no one; but as long as you can delude yourself, I imagine you'll be happy enough. Alternatively, you could just ring up the best of those you fired and say: "I hated having to fire you. Miraculously, we now have more work and more money. So please come back."

But as you say, that could be jolly embarrassing for you.

Q: Dear Jeremy, As a client I was recently involved in a pitch where the agency made a big point of introducing their CEO, and the relevance of his background to our task. Imagine my surprise when he made his first contribution to the meeting after ten minutes by excusing himself from the remainder of the meeting. My initial positive impression of his involvement disappeared and I spent the remainder of the meeting in cynical mode. Am I being too harsh to suppose that such an appearance is indicative of an agency that is more interested in style than substance? Yours anonymously ...

A: However harsh your judgment, it is fully justified. Do make sure, however, that it's fairly directed.

I'd be reasonably certain that your own disillusionment with this CEO's behaviour is as nothing to the volcanic fury of his agency's pitch team.

You may have learned something useful about its leader but it's far too soon to condemn the agency as a whole.

Great schools survive and prosper even during the tenure of disastrous Heads. The same is true of agencies. Before you write off this agency altogether, have a quiet and private meeting with the senior account person.

You could earn his undying love and loyalty.

Some CEOs like to believe that the ten minutes with which they grace a meeting is evidence both of their personal involvement and the demand on their time from even more important clients. They are almost as misguided as the CEOs who greet potential clients on videotape. "I'm so sorry not to be able to be with you today but I'm honouring a long-standing commitment in Singapore. However, I have condescended to record a few platitudes especially for this occasion."

Q: Dear Jeremy, How small does a receipt have to be before it appears petty on an expenses claim form?

A: As an ad person, you should know that perception is affected not only by substance but also by context. An expenses claim for one second-class stamp will appear petty. An expenses claim which itemises dinner for six at Petrus, a box at Covent Garden and one second-class stamp will not.

Indeed, it will enhance your reputation for rigorous accountability.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone 020 8267 4683

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.