Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: We are a junior creative team. We were hired a year ago in a small agency. Since then we've managed to do some good work but we are frustrated with its lack of creative ambition. We have been recently offered a placement/trial in an agency we admire. We don't know if we should stick with the security of a job or follow our enthusiasm, but take a risk of ending up with nothing? What would you do?

A: I can see it all. There's been the two of you, regularly coming up with all this courageous, cut-through, cutting-edge stuff. And just as regularly, there's been your executive creative director turning it all down. I assume that's the cause of your frustration? You know that your agency's crewed by a bunch of craven lickspittles and they know you're a pair of gong-crazed neophytes. I've no idea which of you is right, though it's entirely possible that you both are.

However, there's at least one rule that all creative people should try to live by: never go on working for people whose creative judgment you don't respect. Please don't take that as a green light for self-certainty. Respecting another person's judgment is not at all the same as always agreeing with it. It simply means that, just occasionally, however improbable, you reluctantly accept that someone else just might be a better judge of your work than you are. If that never happens, you'll never be any better at what you do than you were on your first day.

Having your work consistently turned down by someone whose judgment you don't respect is a fruitless business: you learn nothing. It's just as fruitless as having everything you do uncritically applauded as mould-breaking: again, you learn nothing.

So, yes; whatever the risk, you should certainly take up the offer of a placement/trial at the agency you admire. If they deserve your admiration, they'll judge your work fairly, you'll learn a lot and they'll want to keep you on. If they reject as much of it as your present allegedly gutless one does, you may find yourselves in need of some urgent career counselling.

Q: Last year, I packed up my job at a cracking agency to take on the challenge of rescuing a beleaguered one. This agency is now being merged with a more successful sibling in the same network and I stand to lose out in the management battle. Would it be better to wait until the management structure shakes out or bow out now with my self-respect intact?

A: I don't think you're thinking about self- respect at all. I think you're thinking about what other people will think. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but don't confuse it with self-respect.

This merger will not be a merger of equals. Yours will be the junior, weaker member. However well you may have conducted the rescue operation, you won't be offered the top slot. I doubt if there'll even be a management battle: a management walkover, more likely, and quite right, too. Someone must have done a good job at the more successful sibling. Staff, clients, interested observers and the great god Justice will all expect that someone to be invited to weld the two parts together. But that, of course, means a change of business card for you: Nigel Lightbody, CEO, no longer. My, oh my: what will people think?

Self-respect actually means not minding that much what people think. Jumping ship now would seem a very petty move indeed: designed to demonstrate your independent spirit but instead suggesting premature petulance. If you're any good, you'll have an extremely valuable role to play in the merged agency. If you don't care what it says on your business card, why should anyone else? Do it well, get satisfaction from it, and you'll almost certainly be asked to be a chief executive again: if not there, then somewhere else. Maybe even at that cracking agency you once left. Now, that would be good for the self-respect - as long as you keep it to yourself, of course.

Q: How important do you think what you wear to work is? On days when I've not got any external meetings, I really can't see the logic in wearing clothes that need to be dry-cleaned/ironed.

A: Explain something to me, please. At work, you're perfectly happy to be judged on your talent, your value, your agreeability: on your true, unvarnished self. You feel no need to rely on garb to send out reassuring signals of taste or respectability. I like that. You've got integrity. So what happens, please, when you go to these external meetings? Why this sudden appreciation of dry-cleaning? And which of these two groups are you insulting the more?

- "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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