Opinion: On the Campaign Couch... with JB

Q: The girlfriend of my biggest client has applied to me for a job. Having met her once, I suspect she will be rubbish. Of course I want to demonstrate to my client that I am not the type to make decisions for the wrong reason... but then I also don't want to queer our otherwise good relationship. It's a minefield. Help!

A: Really big clients very seldom have girlfriends. At least, not openly. Really big clients live in Gerrards Cross or Totteridge with Jenny, the two girls and Dominic who's just gone to Bristol.

So this is what I think has happened.

Your client isn't that big a client and his girlfriend is a thrusting young hussy who's got your client on a very short leash at the moment for reasons into which it is unnecessary to go. It was she who suggested applying to you for this job, taking it for granted that he was so deeply in thrall that he'd lean on you heavily to take her on. And that, of course, is what he's had to pretend to do - while hoping desperately that you won't. The last thing this not-hugely important client wants is to have his agency relationship polluted by the presence of his paramour. What's more, it will stop him flirting with your PA. (Are you sure this is your biggest client? You can't have a very big agency.)

If I'm right - and I usually am in such matters - it simplifies things hugely. Just arrange for a third party to tip off one of your competitors that you've enraged your biggest client by turning down a job application from his girlfriend, whose every smallest whim he satisfies. Budgets should be specified. The third party should add that you've taken this decision on a point of principle in the confident (but entirely erroneous) belief that your client will think all the more highly of you.

Your competitor, chuckling evilly, will snap her up immediately - and you'll be able to feign regret while sharing a quiet wink with your relieved and grateful client. His business will be with you for a great deal longer that he'll be with his girlfriend.

Q: How bad do things have to be before you tell a client to take its business elsewhere? I feel like it every day. Am I being overly touchy?

A: Do you feel like this every day about just this one client? Or do you feel like this every day about every client?

If you feel like this every day about every client, then I'd diffidently suggest that you're in the wrong business. It's obviously true that, if it weren't for clients, the agency business would be a great deal easier to manage, just as buses would find it a great deal easier to run on time if they didn't have to keep stopping for passengers. But on the evidence of those agencies that have succeeded in reducing their client rosters to the irreducible minimum, the question of income soon becomes quite troubling.

So let's, optimistically, assume that it's just this one client who you long to fire on a daily basis. If so, my bet is that it's become personal. When you're a big banana in an agency, you're used to being seen as their key solution; constantly called in to avert crises and fix things.

It's extremely difficult to accept that you may also be a problem; and, naturally enough, your subordinates, in part through politeness and in part through self-protection, will hesitate to tell you. Nor will this intractable client come clean and say: "The only trouble with your agency, Gideon, is you."

There's bound to be a young pretender in your company. You look upon him (increasingly likely to be her) with a mixture of respect and fear. Is this the future?

Tomorrow show true leadership. Hand the ultimate responsibility for this tiresome client to the young pretender. And when, six months later, that very same client, for the very first time, gives your agency full marks across all categories: prepare yourself to cope with extremely mixed emotions.

Q: I'm a frustrated new-business director. My agency has just turned down two pitches because in both cases the client demanded a fair amount of creative work to be presented in the pitch. Should I leave and go somewhere that doesn't mind putting its back into it?

A: If your agency is confident enough and successful enough to decline to do full-scale creative pitches, you need to register two facts. First, you're extremely fortunate. And second, it won't last.

So either move now to somewhere that needs you more. Or wait a little while until your present company does.

"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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