Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, what in your opinion makes a great client?

A: There are those who believe that the only way a client can be great is to behave like the original Hathaway client. Sixty years or so ago, David Ogilvy, a new Brit in New York, graciously agreed to handle Hathaway's miniscule account on the single condition that everything Ogilvy recommended, Hathaway accepted. Full stop. As it happened, everything that Ogilvy recommended turned out to be peerless brand advertising: it drew elegant attention to itself, it distinguished Hathaway from all other shirt-makers, it made those who bought the shirts feel better about themselves - and it added to the brand's reputation for exclusivity, while simultaneously appealing to three times as many people than before. Not bad for a few hundred thousand dollars. Why don't all clients agree to such terms? No time-consuming meetings, huge savings on research and the added gratification of being great.

In truth, of course, the fact that the Hathaway model has never been universally adopted has been the unsung saviour of our imprecise trade. Had every client signed off every proposal at the first presentation, the world's consumers would have been exposed to far more impenetrable puerility, advertising's effectiveness would have been halved and most of us would have had to find employment somewhere else.

Let me put this challenge to all successful agency people. I'm perfectly happy to accept your claim that you've never knowingly urged a client to accept a campaign that you knew to be dire. But can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me that your distinguished career has featured no creative proposals, so passionately advocated and so cruelly rejected, that you know in shameful retrospect to have been bummers of the highest order?

We've all in our time been saved from huge professional embarrassment by perceptive clients. It's also true, of course, that less perceptive clients have stifled a fair number of Hathaway babes at birth - but that's another story altogether.

It's very difficult to be a great client. It's probably much easier to be a lucky one.

Q: Dear Jeremy, should ad agencies compensate for their role in creating unnecessary demand (and therefore fuelling environmentally unfriendly consumerism) by planting more trees?

A: Oh my God, where to start?

First, examine your own life and what you mean by unnecessary. The only survival needs you have are physiological: food, water, and sleep. The moment you drink tea rather than water, you've strayed from the necessary to the unnecessary. There's universal agreement, however, that a human life begins to take on some semblance of fulfilment only when non-survival needs begin to be met and enjoyed. Once the necessary needs have been met, human happiness depends on the unnecessary. I hope you're with me so far.

So unnecessary demand is necessary - not least because the impossibility of deciding what is and what isn't necessary has already brought great centralist regimes to their knees - and mercifully always will. You should be delighted to be part of a trade that dangles an infinite number of tantalising goodies in front of relatively affluent individuals and lets the magic of the market do the rest. If you want to get serious, think about unnecessary waste.

Q: Help. I've been an account director for more than five years and been mooting a more creative career for some time now (clients have said that my contact reports and e-mails display "untapped literary prowess"). Unfortunately, recruitment agents don't take my intentions seriously, our creative director squirmed sheepishly when I asked his advice and ad schools seem less than impressed with my career history. This is supposed to be the age of integration. I thought the industry would welcome renaissance talent. Any ideas?

A: I believe I can dredge up just one instance of an account person successfully becoming a creative person. And that was back in the days when writing was an appreciated skill. Today, we know that a person is creative because he's a creative so he must be. We know that planners uniquely possess planning skills simply because they're called planners. And we know that account directors can neither plan nor create because they're called account directors. So I sympathise. But I'd sympathise more if you were able to demonstrate your renaissance talent with something a little more persuasive than e-mails and contact reports.

- "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.