Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the chief executive of a small network-owned agency with a reporting line through to New York and I'm struggling to cope with the Americans' need to meddle in everything we do. Culturally, they have no idea what works over here, which has led to a number of excellent and amusing campaigns being pulled because they quite simply don't get the joke. How can I tell them to stay out of our business?

A: All readers will instinctively sympathise. You've pressed every button.

In The White Hat, there's You: small, creative, culturally sensitive, British, talented and amusing. And in The Black Hat, there's Them: a huge network, American, humourless, culturally insensitive, and a right bunch of meddlers.

It's a no-brainer, as those of little brain are always saying.

But just before I join the wailing chorus of sympathisers, let me probe a little further.

You are owned by this network, yet I detect no sense of one-ness. You refer to them as Them and to you as We. Are you ever Us? Then again, you make no mention of clients. Who are they? National or international?

If national, don't they ever resent having their excellent, amusing and effective campaigns pulled by some remote, uncultured American? It is, after all, their money. And have you never defended one of your elliptical, gnomic, post-ironic and amusing campaigns on the grounds that only the Brits would understand it only to discover a few million quid later that they didn't?

I only ask.

Every agency needs a Them. Nothing unites an agency like a common enemy and networks fill this function with instinctive flair. You probably have excellent grounds for complaint; but I bet you, not always, not every time, not on every occasion. If you become hooked on blaming Them for every little local setback of your own, you'll soon lose people, business and self-respect; and probably in that order.

Try being very selective in the cases you choose to fight. You'll be amazed by how many you start to win.

Q: As the marketing director at a major sportswear company that uses lots of cheap labour in war-torn Asian states, should I worry that a recent survey shows that a high percentage of consumers would boycott a brand associated with sweatshop labour?

A: Yes, you should. And I don't envy you.

You may take it for granted that, sooner or later, the internet will carry details of your Asian workforce, their working conditions and wage rates expressed in US dollars. The story may or may not be accurate and some of the background material will be extremely colourful. It will all be clearly linked to your brand and you will not come out of it smelling of roses. National newspapers will pick the story up.

If your company is a responsible company, it will have made serious attempts to establish an elusive truth. To the fortunate West, your rates of pay are bound to seem indefensibly exploitative. And they may be. But it's also possible that your company, in its unashamed drive for low-cost labour, is bringing much-needed employment - and even some degree of dignity - to otherwise hopelessly deprived people. I hope for everyone's sakes that you're on the side of the angels. And that the evidence is robust enough to put your own conscience at rest - and to defend your brand when the stories break. Otherwise - and justly so - your brand's in trouble.

Q: I told a former colleague details of a pitch. The client has threatened to cancel the pitch if any information is leaked. Should I come clean or keep quiet?

A: You should put on a pair of grey flannel shorts, sharpen your pencil, bend your head over your desk with the tip of your tongue showing - and write out the following paragraph 500 times.

"Despite the fact that I'm now 28, I'm still so silly and insecure that I have to show off to my chums by letting them into secrets that I've sworn on the Bible to keep to myself. I'm really truly sorry about this and promise never ever to do it again, cross my heart and hope to die."

I'll leave you to do the other 499 yourself.

When you've finished, check your joined-up writing for spelling and legibility and then hand in your lines to your immediate boss. If he or she has an ounce of humour or compassion, you'll be spared the thrashing you fully deserve.

Of course, if your former colleague is as silly as you are, he'll have blown the gaff to the trade press already. Do let me know where you end up, won't you?

- "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.