Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Our agency has come up with a corking creative idea. It can work across all media and make our new client a mint. We'd like a slice of the action by licensing our idea to the client in return for a share of the profits. However, we don't want to risk causing offence so early in our relationship. How do we broach the subject?

A: The rest of the agency world will be watching this negotiation with mesmerised attention. Don't expect their sympathy should you come majestically unstuck; nor indeed their public gratitude should you pull it off. But they'll all be rooting for you, even if under their breath. You may well be holding the future of the advertising business in your trembling hands.

The first thing you must do (and I'm sorry to have to say this) is acquire the services of a lawyer; one who knows all about royalties and intellectual property and copyright expiry and how to define usage and all those other things about which you and I know nothing. Make sure you're mind-numbingly well informed.

By the sound of things, you're proposing that you should take a share of the profits while underwriting none of the risk. That's not a proper partnership. And don't pretend there is no risk. Only feckless advertising agencies believe in the existence of risk-free enterprises. So your first suggestion to your client should be this: that he, as the investor and risk-taker, should have full claim on all profits until his investment has been re-couped and an agreed surplus pocketed. Thereafter, any further profits should be shared between you in agreed proportions.

Despite your optimism, profits may not cover launch costs. In which case, you will look extremely silly and probably lose your client. I expect your lawyer will instruct you to ignore my advice completely and he may well be right to do so. But at least, unlike his, my advice hasn't cost you anything.

Q: Underpaid, overworked, often bullied and with no clearly defined career path. That seems to be the lot of young people entering the business today. If one of your grandchildren said they were thinking of advertising as a career, what would your advice be?

A: By the time my grandchildren are old enough to be seeking career advice, I'll be too old to give it. Which I am already, come to think of it. But is it really that unpleasant out there? I still see quite a lot of people in agencies - all absurdly young, obviously - and they don't seem cowed to me. No-one's complained of being hung from the balcony by their thumbs or forced to undergo humiliating initiation rituals.

Certainly, they're underpaid. Everybody's always been underpaid. But overworked? The worst thing that can happen to anyone going into advertising is to be underworked. Not to be invited to engage the brain, not to be trusted to get on with things can very quickly rot the soul.

I'd never advise anyone to go into advertising if all they were interested in was ads. Ads are wonderful things - but the best ads happen because the best advertising people are interested in what makes other people tick, why some things are more wantable than others, the nature of fashion and fame, how analogies work, what media do to messages and what can be learnt from The Simpsons. I still can't think of another trade that offers such a well-stocked sandpit to play in. It's entirely possible that a grandchild would love it.

Pity about the pay, though.

Q: My media agency has tried to explain to me why several national newspapers have raised their ad rates despite dramatic sales falls. I still don't understand why I am expected to pay more to reach fewer people. Could you help me?

A: It's like this, you see. Sophisticated advertising sales directors know that crude cost-per-thousand calculations can be seriously misleading.

Lost readers, if they're the wrong kind of readers, can significantly raise the average propensity-to-purchase of the remaining readers: thus, obviously, making them individually more valuable. So it follows that the greater the number of readers who migrate, the greater the individual value of those that remain. If a modest cover-price increase of 5p prompts a few readers to desert, what does that tell you about them? Exactly; good riddance. What shrewd advertiser would be interested in trying to sell a £15,000 car to a consumer who balks at paying another 30p a week for a 200-page newspaper?

I think you'll find that this is what your media agency is trying to explain to you and I don't find it in the least surprising that you remain unconvinced.

- "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.