Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: As the chief executive of a well-known agency, I'm getting worried about some of the PR my creative director is attracting. I can't pick up a newspaper or magazine without reading about how much he paid to renovate his country home or the cost of running his floating gin palace. Clients are beginning to ask me who exactly is footing the bill for all this. I think he needs to be less of a media tart. How do I persuade him?

A: I can picture the scene. Place: your meeting room. Time: January 2006.

Purpose of meeting: fee negotiation. Your biggest client's procurement officer strides in, takes seat at head of table and opens huge folder.

From it he takes 23 laminated press cuttings, each detailing an example of your creative director's personal expenditure. Most are illustrated, some in colour. Taking his time, he arranges them tidily over the entire surface of the table and then leans back.

PO: "Now then, Nigel. Where shall we start? Oh, and Happy New Year, by the way."

So I have some sympathy with you. What's odd about your question, however, is what's missing. You give no hint as to whether he's any good or not.

To my old-fashioned way of thinking, it makes a difference. If he's very, very good - and not just good at winning obscure awards for obscure charities - then you should adopt a two-fold strategy.

To your clients, and their procurement police, you should be boldly, proudly unapologetic. Tell them that there are certain talents, as rare as unicorns, that can transmute a pound's-worth of media investment into ten pounds'-worth of brand value. Your creative director is one such; and, like all such creatures, lives a febrile, fevered, fleeting existence.

His creative flame burns with self-destructive intensity. It cannot last the night. To deny such a tragic creature the fragile prizes of his divine gift is to burn the manuscripts of Mozart.

To move a procurement director to tears is the ultimate test of the modern agency chief executive. It can be done. Watch as this particular procurement person slowly shrinks in stature. Watch as he sheepishly gathers up his laminated press cuttings and stuffs them randomly back into his briefcase.

Then take him softly through your proposed, entirely reasonable, new draft contract. He will be grateful to you for your gentleness.

So much for the first part of your strategy. For the second, confront your creative director. Taking your time, deal on to your desk 23 laminated press cuttings. Each one details an example of his personal expenditure. Most are illustrated, some in colour. Then say: "Every one of these offensive pieces shortens your useful life to this agency by one month. The more the media love you, the sooner they will devour you. Desist."

To curb the excesses of a celebrated creative director is the second-greatest test of the modern agency chief executive.

Q: I have been working as an art director at an above-the-line agency for two years now and have been looking around for a new job. I've just received an offer from a specialist digital advertising agency which looks great - good money, the opportunity to take a lead role on some high-profile clients, and I keep reading that online advertising is growing while TV is having a hard time. But I'm worried about the creative opportunity and about whether this growth is just dotcom hype all over again. What do you think?

A: It's about ten years since Tom Wolfe said that nobody had ever made a name for themselves on the internet. Surprisingly, it's still more or less true. Even the most famous of internet brands owe much of their fame to the attention they've received from elderly, passe media such as newspapers and television.

So if you take up this offer, you may not find fame. You won't be able to ring your Mum and tell her to watch Channel 4 at 18.56 on Thursday.

But the growth of online advertising is real, its potential huge - and most of it is reassuringly accountable.

Of course, you may not find that final fact attractive.

Q: I am a senior female client and have been having an affair with the creative director of my agency (we are both married). I have just moved to a much bigger competitor and would like to take my agency with me but don't want to risk the charge of cronyism. My lover swears that our affair is a secret, but do you think there's any chance that he's lying and that our secret is known by his fellow board directors, and therefore journalists, too?

A: Yes.

- "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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