Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: News of a pitch in which our agency is taking part has been leaked to the press and the client is furious. He believes us to be the source of the tip-off. We're not but we know that another pitching agency is. Do we have any choice but to shop them?

A: In fact, this tricky situation presents you with an interesting opportunity.

Since you're absolutely certain that it was another agency that leaked the story, it must be the case that a journalist on the paper that printed the story has told you so.

Now, we should not, of course, expect trade press journalists to protect the guilty or to withhold a small scoop for fear of embarrassing an advertising agency.

But there remains the fragile possibility - fanciful, I grant you - that this particular journalist is a fundamentally decent person who would deeply regret being the unwitting cause of an agency being penalised for an offence of which it was entirely innocent. (It would be pleasant to believe that such regret would be prompted by the purest of moral considerations.

But should these prove to be not quite compelling enough, self-interest could also be called into play: what sensible hack wants to antagonise a future fount of hot and heaving gossip?)

So put this suggestion to the journalist in question. All you ask is that they make a phone call to the client: still protecting the true source of the story, but exonerating your own agency absolutely.

For 40 years or so, Campaign readers have pondered the probity of Campaign journalists. They will be fascinated to learn the outcome of this exciting experiment. Do make sure you keep me in the loop.

Q: Nobody protests that WACL doesn't allow blokes to become members but when the Solus Club refuses to admit women they're branded a bunch of sexist old farts. Isn't this pure hypocrisy?

A: Starting in 1963, I complained about WACL for 32 consecutive years. But it eventually dawned on me that one of the reasons it was able to remain the most civilised of advertising clubs was that it didn't have me in it. Furthermore, if you're extremely lucky, they'll ask you to go as a guest or even to talk to them. That way you get to go to their dinners without having to pay. So stop being so po-faced: they've got a good thing going there.

Q: After the usual over-indulgence in December and having embarrassed myself considerably at various Christmas parties, my boss has told me to lay off the drink for a while. However, already I'm disappointing my clients who seemed to prefer me when I'm intoxicated and entertaining. How can I keep both clients and boss happy while also showing everyone that I'm actually quite serious about my job?

A: Sit down, sonny - I need to talk to you at some length. Throughout this country, in saloon bars, estate agents and used-car dealerships, there are men in their early 40s wearing 80s suits, club ties and expressions of unconvincing optimism. You will find others in the less fashionable parts of South Africa and hundreds more offering timeshare deals in southern Spain.

All these men were once in advertising agencies. Clients loved them, their agencies loved them, and young graduate trainees - often fatally - strove hard to emulate them.

They had no formal titles but their role was fully understood. They were court jesters, wonderfully entertaining with both word and wine. People loved them because they loved people. They also loved meetings and drinks and dinners and treats and surprises. A client, escaping once a month from his office on that industrial estate, had only to glimpse his appointed jester to swear eternal allegiance to his agency and vow to review their fees at the first opportunity. Favourably, of course.

And agencies loved their jesters because they were living evidence that agencies really were fun and funky places to work. Never were expense accounts more recklessly, gratefully initialled.

Then things changed. Though quite a few clients continued to seek the company of their jesters, egging them on to ever-greater excesses of jesting and expenditure, they were never the clients who made the hard- faced decisions. And as financial directors and procurement officers began to scrutinise all outgoings with the concentration of a cryptographer, the value of the jester rapidly became impossible to justify.

Some had never bothered to become good at advertising. They went. A few loved advertising. Fighting their former reputations, they became good at it.

I think you've got to do the same. You're still allowed to tell a few good jokes.

- "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.

Topics