Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A recruitment consultant writes: "Jeremy, like you I'm a grey-haired industry veteran. Unlike you, I've lost my last shreds of professional respect. The shortage of account handlers in London means that novices with two years' account handling experience are treating me like dirt. Unless the brief is a multimillion-dollar account in one of London's sexiest agencies, I'm told not even to meet them for coffee. This used to be the behaviour of senior management Gods. Now it's the cocky little text-message generation. Is this how I'm destined to see out my days in recruitment?"

A: I have some sympathy for you. But only some. I detect from the tone of your letter that you find it impossible to conceal your contempt for the cocky little text-message generation. It's quite OK for me to know how you feel - but not for them.

For the moment, they're riding high. Furthermore, they've spent the first half of their week being bashed about the park by their clients (largely because they're ignorant, cocky little text-messagers) and now, suddenly, they've become a client - so they take it out on you.

Your only hope is to modify your own brand position a little. Remember that the reason these cocky little text-messagers are cocky is because they're deeply insecure; and the reason they're deeply insecure is because they have a lot to be deeply insecure about.

At the moment they see you as a boring old fart, totally out of touch with contemporary talent. You can do nothing to help them. But with a tweak or two on your own brand architecture's core foundations, you can become a legendary sage, a guru- like figure to whom they can safely entrust their deepest insecurities. The key is to listen very, very respectfully and say very, very little.

Q: I'm a 40-year-old creative. Am I too old to be wearing a T-shirt, jeans and trainers to work?

A: To start with, I read your question as: "I'm a 40-year-old creative. Am I too old?" To which I would have replied: "Not necessarily. You may just about have acquired enough wisdom and experience to be able to challenge certain research techniques not because of their infanticidal effect on your most promising ideas but on the grounds of their dodgy methodologies. That's when you know you've grown up and will be greatly valued for many years to come."

Depressingly, however, you seem to be more interested in what you should wear - so I can't be optimistic. A 40-year-old creative whose main professional preoccupation is sartorial should be working with some urgency on an alternative life plan.

Meanwhile, however, keep wearing the kit: it will soon become the uniform of the staid and settled and all those young pretenders will have to think of something else. Watch out for the return of the hacking jacket with leather elbows and brothel creepers.

Q: What strategy would you advise when your company gets caught doing something it shouldn't have? Admit it and bare your soul or shut up and lie low?

A: In the unlikely event of anyone actually getting sent down over the cash for honours affair, I bet it won't be because they either sold or bought an honour. It will be because they attempted to pervert the course of justice; in other words, did their best to bugger up all those conscientious cops who were investigating the original cash for honours allegations. They'll be done not for the original alleged offence, but for the attempted cover-up. And that's how it nearly always is: think Nixon, Aitken, Archer - and countless others.

All this leads pundits to encourage challenged miscreants to come clean with immediate effect - or to bare the soul, as you put it.

Well, they may well be right. And that's certainly the advice I should be giving you. But it's always seemed to me that these calculations ignore one crucial statistic. By definition, the only cover-ups we know about are the ones that fail. We have absolutely no idea of the number that succeed.

Like establishing the number of undetected murders or illegal immigrants, this figure is impossible to come by. In all three cases, it's likely to be large. So you've probably got a much better chance of getting away with it than legend suggests.

The third way, of course, is not to do what you shouldn't have done in the first place - but I do understand just how po-faced that sounds.

- "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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