Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Gemma writes, I've worked in public sector marketing for some time now and have had the privilege of working on some inspiring and award-winning campaigns, both from the point of view of creativity and effectiveness.

Why then is it that the industry continues to dismiss marketers working in the public sector and some go so far as to suggest no-one of talent would want to work in public sector marketing? A bit harsh, don't you think?

Dear Gemma, you baffle me, you really do. What drives you to believe that the marketing industry "dismisses marketers working in the public sector"? Who has ever suggested that no-one of talent would want to work in public sector marketing - and where were these suggestions made?

Marketing awards consistently honour public sector work (though I grant you that the category called Charities & Public Sector could strike the sensitive as a touch unfortunate). Public sector marketing not only delivers great service to the public sector but is also an invaluable reminder to citizens, commentators and legislators that marketing is not just about flogging more stuff for more money to more people. Marketing can be, and often is, a great force for good. And since a new Age of Inconspicuous Consumption is about to engulf us, everybody needs to remember that.

Furthermore, all agencies love working for public sector clients, even when they don't pay that well; which means they must love working for you. Don't you get lots of solicitations? So who's been being beastly to you, Gemma? Just tell me where they live and I'll send my bruvvers round.

PS. Give my best to your mum.

Q: A group of young staffers at the agency of which I'm the chief executive want to take a week out on full pay to help children at an East End "sink" school improve their literacy skills. I'm all for putting something back into society, but we're not a charity and I have a business to run. Will the agency and, more importantly, clients see me as mean-spirited if I refuse?

A: Unless your young staffers are grotesquely under-employed, their absence for a full week is going to mean either faltering client service or extra work for others. That's the only issue that should concern you. So tell them that you thoroughly approve of their plan (which you should), but that acts of philanthropy shouldn't be at someone else's involuntary expense. You're not going to re-allocate their duties to others; that's their job. All they need to do is get the willing agreement of their mates to cover for them for the span of that week and you'll happily bless their venture.

Refuse them, and you'll not only look mean-spirited, you'll also look dumb. Agency people would be a lot more effective if only they got out more. Your young staffers won't find improving literacy skills in a sink school nearly as easy as they think - but they'll benefit hugely from the experience. On their return, make sure that they share what they've learnt - however chastened they may be.

Q: When I graduated, I was offered traineeships in copywriting and magazine journalism. I chose journalism, but 25 years later I find myself wondering what might have been. At this stage in my career, I'm in a position to choose what I do and I haven't acquired any expensive habits such as ex-spouses or pension rights along the way. I have an iPod, a BlackBerry, a blog and my own hair and teeth. What do you think my chances are of realising my youthful copywriting ambitions and what advice would you offer me?

A: I suppose you must be fortysomething?

I doubt if there's an agency in the United Kingdom that would bother even to interview a fortysomething journalist, with no advertising experience, no art director partner, no book, no reel and no awards.

It gives me no pleasure to tell you this but that's how it is. Copywriters are either hired from other agencies, where they are already copywriters, or they come straight out of college.

The IPA is thinking very seriously about copywriters and copywriting. They hope to encourage agencies to reintroduce copy tests. I very much hope that they will be tests of native writing ability, invention and ingenuity rather than advertising tests. Too much advertising is already too much like too much other advertising.

If you can find an agency that believes in a writing test and then invites you to take it; and if you can do an absolutely dazzling one; then if they've got any sense, they'll give you a go. But you'll need to be quite exceptionally talented.

- "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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