Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I've only been managing director of my agency for a few months and I've never been so scared. I've no experience of managing through a downturn, let alone a full-blown recession. I know my people will be looking to me for leadership. What should I be saying to them?

A: Let's just run through a few of the things you might think of saying.

"Let's not panic! There's no reason to believe that this will turn out to be nearly as disastrous as it looks at the moment." "Let's not talk ourselves any deeper into this unprecedented recession." "Of course we're in for a bumpy ride - but let's look on this as an opportunity!" "I thought you should know that your management is determined to keep job losses to an absolute minimum just as long as we can." "We've written to all our clients reminding them that successful companies double their marketing budgets during recessionary periods so that should be all right." "This is to announce new policies on entertaining, travel, expenses and punctuality, to come into operation with immediate effect." "I'm sure you'd all agree that any traditional form of Christmas celebration this year would seem extremely inappropriate, particularly as we may well be required by Regional HQ to downsize somewhat. So I've asked the accounts dept to undertake a feasibility study into funding an alternative social function at a somewhat more modest level."

What I hope this illustrates is that you shouldn't be wasting a second of your time trying to work out what you should say; you should be concentrating entirely on what you should do. Reassuring words rarely reassure; more often than not, they fuel a forest fire of fear, speculation and insecurity. More than at any other time of your life, you'll be judged not on your words but on your actions and your body language.

Start with your clients. Invite each one to a half-day meeting in which you remind them, with colourful, concrete examples, of the vast value of a good idea. Your examples don't have to be recent, immediately relevant or even your own. Remind them of Sir Ernest Rutherford's dictum: "We haven't any money so we've got to think." Suggest a weekly meeting, 50-50 client/agency, with beer and sandwiches, the sole objective of which is to solve the client's problems: to make money or to save money through the application of brains and inventiveness. Topics may cover matters normally nothing whatever to do with an advertising agency. You won't charge your time for such meetings but should take it in turns to pay for the sandwiches. You'll be amazed how many good ideas you generate, how grateful your clients are and how much fun your people have doing it. You'll have established your leadership not through empty oratory but through demonstrable deeds.

Over the past 70 years, 156 separate published papers have all strongly suggested that brands are far more likely to survive recessions, and even emerge from them with greater strength, when they undertake purposeful activity. Your agency is a brand. So cut out the words and get with the action.

Q: We are three students in our final year of studying Advertising and Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University - a degree that emphasises the strategic side of advertising. Campaign's ongoing coverage regarding creativity within UK advertising has prompted much debate among our course. The general perception is that an artistic background is required in order to succeed within the creative side of the industry. However, if this is the case, it eliminates a large pool of creative thinkers simply because they are unable to draw. Many of us are keen to pursue such a career, yet are unsure as to whether our lack of artistic ability will hinder our chances of being taken seriously. Are our feelings justified?

A: I'm deeply envious of those who can draw - but not because it enables them to surge to the top in advertising. Please be reassured: there's not the slightest correlation, positive or negative, between those who can draw and those who end up as executive creative directors chairing international juries in Cannes - let alone running highly respected multinational advertising agencies. Once upon a time, senior art directors used to be members of the Royal Watercolour Society but not any longer. Today, some can draw and some can't, and the ones who can't don't give a damn.

In advertising, creativity and artistic ability live in different boxes. I'm delighted your course emphasises strategy. That's where lively and inventive minds can make the greatest contribution. But please, just because you can't draw, don't resort to PowerPoint.

- "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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