Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My new boss is somebody I don't respect and in fact I used to be his boss at a previous agency. I don't want to leave the business I've helped build so how can I make the best of this situation?

A: The only way you can make the best of this situation is to avoid making the worst of it. And I bet that's what you're doing at the moment. When confronted by people for whom they have no respect, only very talented people can keep their disrespect from showing. I doubt if you're one of them.

You sit in meetings chaired by your new boss, and whenever he speaks, you let your eyes roll. Sometimes you sigh audibly. You hunch your shoulders and doodle. Occasionally, you may even interject: "I think you'll find, Nigel, that we resolved that question rather neatly as long ago as last May. But, of course, I forget - that would have been before you joined the agency."

If you think such silly goings-on will earn you kudos from your colleagues and undermine Nigel's authority, you're wrong. They all know that you were once Nigel's boss and that Nigel's arrival at the agency, and in such a grand role, has induced in you the mother of all sulks. Even if they're not that keen on Nigel, the truth is that he's winning and you're losing; and what's more, losing with an exceptionally bad grace.

You obviously think that you're better at this business than your new boss is. The only way to convince others of this fact is not to snipe at Nigel at every opportunity, but to give him unquestioning, doe-eyed support and loyalty. Get him out of tight fixes, cover up his errors and omissions, steer him towards new-business triumphs. No eye-rolling, no sulking, no doodling - and never say a word against him.

Very, very soon it will become evident to everyone that you're doing all the work while Nigel's getting all the credit. Nigel will notice too. He'll need to demonstrate that's he's not dependent on you. Since he can't demote you without looking ridiculous, he'll have to promote you. After that, it's up to you.

One more agency, and you could be back on top again.

Q: I'm thinking of setting up a start-up and I have a backer who is the marketing director of a huge client. He says he's happy to move the account once we set up as long as we keep it quiet - he reckons he's done it before. Is it illegal?

A: He's not going to risk his own neck by handing over his company's huge account to the back of an envelope. So before this dodgy marketing director can deliver, you'll need to have recruited at least half-a-dozen expensive people, taken out a lease on some desirable office space, installed a few computers and raised enough money to keep you going for at least a year.

Let's start with the recruitment. The people you'll want will be highly regarded, well rewarded and much treasured by their existing agencies. That's why you want them. They'll also be smart. They'll want to know what business you've already got sewn-up. In the absence of business, how do you persuade them to play Russian roulette with their family's future? You can't. So you'll have to tell them everything and swear them to secrecy.

Then, money. No-one's going to lend you vast sums without sight of a solid business plan. A business plan that contains no business is not solid. In the absence of business, how do you persuade your prospective backers (already scared witless by evidence of a global economic meltdown) to put their futures at risk? You can't. So you'll have to tell them everything and swear them to secrecy.

Some of the people you try to recruit will listen politely and tiptoe away. Some of the people you ask for money will listen impatiently then give you the brush-off. By the time you've got a half-decent skeleton agency in place, with enough money in the bank to support it, 817 people will know of your plans. They will also know of the marketing director's secret pledge.

One of the 817, a venture capitalist, goes to the same gym as the chief executive of your marketing director's company. They speak. Later that morning, the chief executive sends for the marketing director and asks him to explain himself. The marketing director denies everything; then goes to the nearest phone box and roasts you until your flesh peels.

You've now got fixed monthly outgoings of a quarter of a million quid, no business, no income and no job.

You ask if the marketing director's proposal was illegal. Tragically for you, it wasn't.

- "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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