Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm an account manager who has a great personal relationship with my opposite number on one of the accounts I work on. The problem is this: I overheard his boss telling mine that they were looking to get rid of him. Do I tell my friend and jeopardise the agency relationship, or do I stay quiet and watch him be made redundant?

A: Think it through. What, exactly, would you tell your friend? And what, as a result, would your friend do with what you'd told him?

You'd say: "Don't know quite how to put this, Mick, but I happened to hear Sonya talking to Desmond about your future - and as far as I could make out, she didn't seem to think you'd really got one ..."

Mick is now in a state of intense uncertainty. Will he confront Sonya?

On the fragile basis of what you may have overheard her saying to Desmond, no, he won't. He doesn't want to believe it and anyway you might have got it wrong.

Will it rattle him badly? Yes, it will. Will it improve his performance?

No, it won't. Will he be grateful to you for passing on this totally unactionable piece of suspect information? No, he won't. Will he confuse the message and the messenger and think you've failed to back him in his time of need?

Yes, he will.

Furthermore, nothing will happen immediately anyway. People talk about getting rid of people for months before they get around to doing it. Quite often, they never get around to doing it. Sometimes the person who's talking about getting rid of someone is the person that someone else gets rid of first. Meanwhile, Mick dangles in the wind, confidence trickling from him like a rusty radiator and daily becoming less and less employable.

So keep your mouth shut and your ears open. And if Sonya finally pulls the trigger, resist the temptation to tell Mick that you've known for months that he was under sentence of death. He'll say: "For Christ's sake, why didn't you tell me? I thought you were my friend!" And you'll never get him to understand that that's exactly why you didn't.

Q: I am a retail client who is aware that the Christmas campaign we have developed is not as creative or exciting as my agency is capable of. However, the current climate is dangerous to take risks in. Should I have been braver?

A: What sort of climate takes the risk out of risk-taking? When was the last time your chief executive said to you: "Nigel, the economy's booming, the high street is humming, consumers are consuming with unseemly incontinence: so let me encourage you to spend your marketing budget recklessly."

If you've ever been a judge at an awards event, you'll know how easy it is to be brave. Blisteringly scornful of the cautious, you champion the courageous with all the certainty that comes from not being responsible for it. What's more, you're probably right.

Next time timidity and climate change cause you to hesitate, just pretend that the challenging campaign your agency has just presented is not for you but for your nearest competitor. You'll find it lubricates the critical faculties in a wonderfully nerve-steeling way.

Q: Jeremy, I'm at the end of a degree in advertising and I have two offers at two very different agencies. One is from a big agency and the other is from a small and successful agency which is not very well known. I'm concerned that if I join the big agency I will not get the chance to shine. On the other hand, I will get a very hands-on experience at the small agency but no-one has heard of it. What is your advice?

A: I'm a little bit puzzled by this small successful agency that no-one has heard of. Ours is a very small village and it's brilliantly served by its communications systems. No successful agency - even if it perversely set out to do so - could remain unheard of for more than one awards season.

So it just occurs to my sceptical sensors that this small agency, which has so gratifyingly offered you a job, may be taking advantage of your youth and innocence by claiming an eminence it has yet to earn. Please ask around widely.

Given the choice between a small, little-known agency that's been small and little-known for years and years and a big, established agency with an institutionalised reputation, you'd be wise to go for the latter. But if the smaller one really does show solid signs of emergent greatness, go for it.

I hope you realise how favoured you are to face such an option.

- "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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