Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: It's grad recruitment time, and I'm trying desperately to get my first break in the business.

I keep reading in Campaign about wild and wacky would-be creatives going to all sorts of lengths to get in with creative directors and I was wondering whether it's worth doing something similar to try and get on a grad scheme. Or I am better off just filling out the forms as well as I can and crossing my fingers (again)?

A: I wonder if you're called Nick or Sarah? It seems to help. In 2005, the last year for which I have reliable figures, 68.7 per cent of the agency graduate intake were called either Nick or Sarah. By now, of course, there may be a surfeit of Nicks and Sarahs so you might be better off as Juniper or Kaihann.

But whatever you're called, don't do stunts. Just fill in the forms - and add a letter. This letter should have just one simple communications objective: it should elicit from the recipient, be it a lowly HR person or the chief executive, the immediate response: "Even if it's a complete waste of time, we absolutely must see her/him."

If you can't devise such a letter, you shouldn't be trying to get into advertising.

Q: I've just got a new job running an agency and am in the middle of a bit of a shake-up of staff. One of my dilemmas involves my new-business director: she's a serial luncher, spends thousands a month on "entertainment" for clients and journalists and generally leaves the actual work to her more junior members of staff. I'm told (and not only by her) that this is pretty much the traditional new-business director's role, but can't help feeling she needs to cut back a bit and knuckle down. The problem is, I don't think she'll ever change - should I just get rid of her?

A: When will agency chief executives finally tumble to the fact that the only clients and journalists who are happy to be schmoozed by new-business directors are those very clients and journalists not worth schmoozing? Just as you have a serial luncher, so do certain clients and publications. Just as conferences are full of people called Norman who do nothing but go to conferences to meet all those other Normans, so there are journalists and clients who do nothing but go to lunch with agency marketing directors.

If you yourself managed just one lunch with a client or a journalist for every ten currently undertaken by your expensive underling, you'd be ten times more effective. And if you weren't, of course, one would need to wonder whether you should be running an agency.

Q: What do you reckon? Christmas bonus or Christmas bash?

You can still do a perfectly respectable Christmas bash for 100 quid a head. I don't for the life of me see how you could do a perfectly respectable Christmas bonus for 100 quid a head.

Some of your most prized employees, one or two of them almost as valuable as they think they are, will be expecting at least three noughts after the first two digits. If your average bonus is going to be 100 quid, that means about 37p for a great many of those people without whom your agency would simply stop.

"Dear Gideon, as you will know it's been a challenging year but I am delighted to say that the agency has as ever proved itself to be deeply resourceful in the teeth of ever intensifying competition and I look forward to the future with undiminished confidence. As a concrete expression of our gratitude to you for your great contribution over the past year, it gives me great pleasure to enclose a postal order for £2.78p. May I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a joyous and fun-filled holiday break?"

It's not unprecedented for managements to spend quite a lot of money with the net effect of demotivating almost everybody - it's been done many times - but it continues to be pretty silly.

Just remember that the definition of a bonus is "something in addition to what is expected or strictly due". The phrase "guaranteed bonus" is a contradiction in terms and an abomination.

Also remember that there is a fundamental difference between a bash and a bonus. With the application of wit and imagination, a low-budget bash can be quite fantastic and inspire great gratitude. The same cannot be said for a low-budget bonus.

So do not see them as alternatives. Use your tiny bonus budget with reckless selectivity. And put your best brains to work on the bash. When pitching to clients, it's what we call added value.

- "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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