Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A concerned citizen writes: I read that Slentrol, Pfizer's newly approved US slimming pill for dogs, could soon be available in the UK and that this is being welcomed - apparently, 40 per cent of our dogs are overweight, and 81 per cent of British vets consider obesity to be their biggest health threat.

But surely they're missing the point? Shouldn't Ofcom simply ban the advertising of pet food? This would stop their owners buying too much food for them, eliminate pooch pester power, and thus solve the problem at a stroke.

Q: It's not often that I get a letter from a Campaign reader with which I am in total agreement. This is one such. The solution proposed is so elegant that I lost no time in forwarding it to Ofcom. This is their reply.

"Many thanks for this interesting suggestion. However, as your correspondent may know, there has as yet been no call, from either the House of Commons or the mass media, for a ban on dog-food advertising, not even on those advertisements blatantly addressed to puppies.

"While Ofcom fully recognises the costs incurred by society as a result of obesity in dogs, it is Ofcom's considered policy not to deprive media of valued advertising revenue unless and until Ofcom's own position is rendered uncomfortable by persistent external pressures. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that obesity in dogs is less the result of watching pet-food advertisements than the excessive watching of television itself. A less Draconian alternative, therefore, and one currently under consideration by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, would be the introduction of legislation designed to discourage dogs of any age from watching television, even before the watershed."

A slightly disappointing response, as I'm sure you'd agree. My own view is this: as soon as it's incontestably clear that the banning of junk-food advertising in the UK has been single-handedly responsible for the eradication of obesity in human beings, Ofcom will have absolutely no option but to adopt your proposal with immediate effect. That being the case, I doubt if pet-food manufacturers need amend their media plans for a year or two yet.

Q: I have just accepted a position as the chief executive at a network agency and am two weeks into a four-month stint of gardening leave. Frankly, I'm bored. It's winter, there's naff all to do in the garden and the last time I had more than two weeks off in one stretch was when I was a student. Do you have any advice on how to fill my time until March?

A: What a revealing question.

You seem to be one of those people whose whole working day is spent responding and reacting to things: to critical clients, to whining staff, to impertinent reporters, to 100 undisciplined e-mails, to your regional president's summons to a seminar in Cascais. You are always very, very busy; so busy that you keep wailing to Priscilla: "I never seem to have any time to think!" And it's true that you never think; but not because of time. You never think either because you can't think or because the thought of thinking frightens you. As the wise man said: "Action is often an escape from thought."

And now here you are, for the first time since you were a student, with all the time in the world to think - and you're bored. You seem to believe that gardening leave is exclusively for gardening. Well, now's the time to find out if you can think or not.

Fast-forward to March. You will be plunged immediately into hectic days of frenzied reaction: everyone will want decisions from you; they've been stacking up for four months. Within weeks, you'll be wailing to Priscilla (who you prudently took with you): "I never seem to have any time to think!"

So what you'll never get around to thinking about are exactly the things that chief executives are paid to think about because if they don't, nobody else will and the future of the company is abandoned to the mercy of events.

Here are some of the things you should be thinking about right now. What business are you in? What's it called? How will it change? Who are your true competitors - now and potential? What will clients want from agencies that they're not now getting? What's the ideal agency structure? What new client-attractive service could you offer and how could you get paid for it? How will web 2.0 develop? Which five individuals would you most like to join you?

Four months isn't nearly long enough to think about all these difficult things; but at least it should stop you getting bored.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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