Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My long, amusing, fairly high-level (although at least at "Campaign" level, largely invisible) career keeps rolling on, rather to my surprise, because each time the corporate grim reaper closes in, yet another Augean stable surfaces in the globomegacorp, and I'm shipped off to sort it out.

Great fun, keeps me at the sharp end, keeps me learning all the time, and keeps me in among the clients and the ads and the young folks. Just one problem - the aforementioned young folks. I've noticed that when I move on, I leave a lot of young folks behind who think the globo-megacorp cares about them. Do you think I should be telling them the truth?

A: You know the answer as well as I do. Just examine the way you've managed your own career. You've never stopped learning. You've welcomed challenge. You've sorted things out. You've enjoyed the company of clients and the lottery of trying to get them good advertising. Above everything, you've found it amusing and you're mildly surprised that it's lasted so long.

You've never, yet, been fired. You probably won't be. But you won't be totally discombobulated if you are. You've lived your productive, amusing life in the constant knowledge that, although your company undoubtedly values you, and cares for you, there can be no certainties.

The advent of the globomegacorp hasn't changed the uncertainty ratings; it's just reminded us of an old truth. The greater the distance between the executioner and the condemned person, the easier the decision to execute becomes. To fire the man with whom you shared an office as graduate trainees 25 years ago demands qualities that can as easily be described as principled as ruthless; but it's never going to be easy. The chief executive of the globomegacorp, several thousand miles away, has no such problems: remember Harry Lime, on the top of his Ferris Wheel in The Third Man. To extinguish an anonymous speck, with guaranteed immunity, makes putting on the black cap a simple matter of cost/benefit analysis. It's not callous; it's just devoid of first-hand familiarity, with all the distortions that that may entail.

So one of the effects of the globomegacorp is to make the inevitable insecurity of a career in advertising a little less coyly camouflaged. Ours is a business that's rampantly competitive, absurdly over-supplied and increasingly subject to global realignments negotiated in Taiwan. Our employers may say they love us; may actually believe they love us; but love, like life in advertising, can never take happy endings for granted.

All this, of course, you know. You also know that it's still an amusing, endlessly fascinating trade. When you leave your young folks behind, you don't have to disillusion them completely. Just make sure that they aren't wallowing in some romantic conception of a past that never was.

Q: I'm thinking of launching a start-up. I have the ambition, the contacts and a promise of business from a medium-sized marketing director. My only reservation is that London is full of great ad agencies. Is the market oversupplied?

A: You're thinking of starting a new agency with only one reservation? Here are some more. You need clever, compatible and complementary colleagues; preferably with an industry reputation. Critically, you need one colleague who's the embodiment of common-sense, never seeks the limelight, can understand leases and employment law, loves you blindly and can make the projector work. You need a business plan that calculates your minimum necessary financial backing; which you then need to double. And you need something a great deal more substantial than a medium-sized marketing director.

Q: I've been doing the rounds on the placement circuit for more than a year now and am getting sick of being exploited financially while everyone around me draws a nice salary. I've done good work wherever I have been, have the right attitude and win lots of praise. But I'm starting to lose my confidence - surely, if I was doing as well as people keep saying, someone would have offered me a job by now? What more can I do to get noticed?

A: Before I answer, I need some help. I keep hearing rumours of placement people being exploited; their work ripped off, unaccredited and unrewarded; being treated like Industrial Revolution apprentices, but without any certainty of an eventual trade. So please; anybody who knows anything, placement teams or agencies, do send me some facts. Happy stories just as welcome as horror stories. Anonymity guaranteed. When I know a bit more, I'll come back to the question.

- "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.