Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I find digital agencies are so paranoid about "earning a place at the top table" that they're utterly un-collaborative. We're all in this together. Do you agree?

A: Everybody's paranoid about earning a place at the top table but that's not the reason for people's reluctance to collaborate. The real reason is language. Like all trendsetting experts, geeks have invented a language that's impenetrable to everyone other than other geeks. They did this at first innocently; it's what they called things. But the names they gave things were so horrible that initials were quickly called for. Thus Uniform Resource Locator, a typically vile neologism, became URL. Within minutes, URL was followed by CSS, LMS, PPC, SEO, VOIP and several hundred others.

Then, of course, the geeks discovered something that all other specialists have discovered before them. Their own impenetrable language gives them a mystique and a cachet that allows them to charge more for things. Why do you suppose you've never understood a word uttered by a lawyer or a management consultant?

When television first became an advertising medium and I was a producer, a client questioned the depiction of his packshot. "Spherical aberration," I said. "Of course," the client said apologetically.

Q: I'm the marketing director at a large, network agency. I'm all for a relaxed dress code (after all, we're in a creative industry) but I draw the line at flip-flops and have banned staff from wearing them. Am I the fashion fascist some staff paint me?

A: I'm surprised that a marketing director has the authority to ban staff from doing anything. Isn't there a CEO at your place? Marketing directors are usually confined to running up restaurant bills.

However, assuming that your job description includes corporate communications, and assuming you see the company dress code as part of those communications, I suppose you've got the right to impose your prejudices on other people.

I just wonder what it is about flip-flops that you find so offensive? How do you feel about sockless feet, for example? Or dungarees over bare flesh? Or tattoos?

But if I were you, I'd stop worrying about flip-flops and start worrying about the people who wear them. We have a touching custom in our business of believing that people must be highly creative not on the basis of what they do but on what they wear. To earn a reputation for being highly creative, you can therefore choose between winning seven Lions or wearing flip-flops. And you can now get a pair of dayglow flip-flops for £4.99 - surprisingly, from garden centres. A no-brainer, as the brainless like to say.

You should also know that in 2002, 55,100 men and women went to hospital with flip-flop-related complaints. I'm afraid I don't have figures for more recent years but that trend is up.

Q: I'm an agency group chief executive and I'm considering appointing a former client to run our London agency. He has a reputation for buying great creative work but I'm worried about whether he'll be able to sell it. Is it worth taking a risk?

A: There are just a few clients whose companies grant them total autonomy in the approval of advertising; then there are clients who are expected to submit all ad proposals to a communications sub-committee, then to the seven regional boards and finally to the worldwide executive group.

If the client you're thinking of hiring comes from the first category, pause for a moment. Those fortunate clients who are granted total autonomy have no proven skills in persuasion. They don't have to convince anyone else. They look at work; they like it; they approve it. They don't even have to figure out why it's good or why it should work. They just like it. And if it bombs, they just move to another company. They tend to be swaggerers. This is no kind of preparation for working in an advertising agency.

On the other hand, any client from the second category with a consistent reputation for accepting great creative work is worth looking at with very great interest. This is a client who understands advertising and how it works; who can so present unexpected advertising to uninitiated colleagues that they can see its potential merits; and who has the patience and the empathy to understand and overcome the special circumstances of the Latin Americans, the fiscal concerns of the financial director and the family interests of the chairman with a daughter in PR.

If you've got one of these in your sights, don't let him go. But beware of swaggerers.

- "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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