Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Please help. I am a young copywriter whose creative director is old and past his best, or possibly totally insane. He survives in his role by taking credit for any good work I do, or blaming me for any mistakes he makes. How do I get out of this, or is murder the only solution?

A: I think you'll find, as you grow up, that most established creative directors survive by taking credit for the work of others - and also that a fair sprinkling of them are insane. Changing agencies may therefore not be the solution to your problem. Most young copywriters decide to soldier on until they're old enough to become creative directors themselves.

Only then do they belatedly realise that taking responsibility - aka credit - for the work of their department is a key requirement of the role; and also that an appearance of insanity greatly enhances their mystique and job security.

Q: I'm a middle-aged planner and my life seems interminably dull and without focus. I also seem to be the laughing stock of the agency I work at, and no-one ever wants to hear my thoughts on anything. Is this normal?

A: If this were normal, account planning would have expired as a discipline three decades ago. But I'm intrigued by the concept of an account planner whose thoughts no-one ever wants to hear. Traditionalists believe the only reason for hiring account planners in the first place is for them to have thoughts. It's a bit liking paying for a Court soothsayer who's never expected to say a sooth.

I'd be intrigued to learn: did you ever have worthwhile thoughts or has your entire career been built in this way? If so, quite a lot of people would pay good money to find out how you've pulled this off.

Meanwhile, continue to keep a low profile and do sudoku every day. You can't be far from a peaceful paddock.

Q: I am a partner at a successful independent agency, which has long been the subject of "will they, won't they" rumours about our sale into one of the networks. I've eyed the recent sales of numerous start-ups with growing incredulity. I know I'm kicking against the pricks in not wanting a £7 million pair of golden handcuffs, but surely I'm not alone in thinking that a healthy industry needs at least a smattering of independent shops?

A: No, no, no, you're not alone. It's one of the many wonders of our trade that anyone can set up in business. You don't need qualifications and you don't need much capital; you just need talent, knowledge, contacts, confidence and luck. Most of the people who set up their own agencies hone their talent and pick up the knowledge while working for big established agencies.

All big agencies were once plucky little upstarts themselves - albeit 100 years ago or more. Big agencies act as academies and incubators for breakaway independents - who then go on to tease them and taunt them with their agility and sex-appeal. Just as the founders of small agencies learn everything from large agencies, so in turn do the large (sensible) agencies learn from their irreverent spin-offs.

No new agency can stay both good and small indefinitely. You can stay good or you can stay small but you can't stay both. And so it goes on.

You're right: that's one of the things that keeps the trade healthy.

Q: In a recent article a well-known creative director made a number of arrogant and derogatory remarks about the quality of work being bought by clients in general. This has been taken to heart by a number of my clients who assume that all of us think the same. How do I avoid being tarred with the same brush?

A: You'll remember the old sexist joke that hasn't been told since the birth of political correctness - and properly so. Man: "The trouble with women is that they take every generalisation personally." Woman: "I don't." Quite unacceptable, I agree.

But clients seem to have reacted in a similar way to the mild suggestion that some of them sometimes commit their companies' money to sub-standard stuff. Huff and outrage. What impertinence! I don't!

And then the secondary response: "I bet you all think that, don't you?

Secretly, that's what all you agency creeps think, isn't it? Go on, admit it!" It betrays a deep unease.

But think about it more carefully. If your clients are accusing you of harbouring these vile thoughts, it can only mean that they suspect your work for them may be sub-standard. Now that is something for you to worry about.

- "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.


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