Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Dear Jeremy: Recently, I went to a work-related party, had a few too many to drink, and ended up telling my boss how he should run the agency and exactly what he was doing wrong.

To tell the truth, I don't remember all the details but I do have a vague memory of him looking thoroughly annoyed. I sent an apology on e-mail the next day, which he replied to with a very short response, and since then, I've tried to steer clear of him. But I'm worried that he'll hold it against me in the future. Should I try and apologise in person? Or just forget it and hope he has too?

A: Soon after I was made a senior person, I had to stop going to the agency's favourite pub. Many believed this was because I no longer wished to be seen with the working classes. It wasn't. It just got deeply boring.

Within half-an-hour, I'd be cornered - able to move neither left nor right nor any further back. With pint in one hand and forefinger extended from the other, a beery-breathed discontent would lurch up, thrust his face into mine and start telling me where the agency was going wrong. And another thing ... and another thing ... and another thing. Three more prods in the chest and a belch for good measure. "Know you won't mind me saying all this ... you're a good chap ... just between us pals ... still one of the boys ... you tell 'em ... bet you're still on our side really ..."

This is what you did to your boss at that party. You don't even remember what you said. And then - a lovely little touch this - you apologise by e-mail.

I doubt if he minded the disrespect. Most good advertising people are disrespectful. What he minded was your plodding, malodorous, repetitive, incoherent, mind-numbing tediousness. These have never been qualities that mark out an adman of exceptional promise. Even after you'd sobered up, you displayed crass insensitivity.

Furthermore, you ruined his party.

It's probably too late for you to recover. Given the economic climate, that could prove a pity.

But try being exceptionally good at what you do. Champion some excellent work and get it accepted. Bring in some new business. Persuade your clients to hold both their nerves and their budgets. Win an effectiveness award or two. And never again bore anyone - drunk or sober.

Dear Jeremy: Some of our biggest clients are reporting dismal financial results and they are cutting staff across the board. Usually, Christmas is a great excuse to wine and dine them, shower them with gifts and generally make them feel good, not to mention build the relationship. But in this economic environment, is it better to do nothing than risk offending them with extravagance?

A: Clients look to their agencies to be inventive. That's why they employ them. They also expect their agencies to be intuitively, instinctively sensitive to the needs, moods and fears of others; you can't be any good at advertising otherwise.

So here's your chance to demonstrate what a great agency you are.

Your clients are feeling awful. They've had to fire people. They'd find any extravagance on your part deeply distasteful. But they still need cheering up and you still need to show how much you love them.

So using your imagination in lieu of loot, stage an event. Don't outsource any part of it. Challenge your planners to plan it: total budget, a hundred quid. If you have any art directors who can actually draw, get them drawing. If you have any copywriters who can actually write, get them writing. Make it funny and thoughtful and, above all, personal: if it would be just as right for all your clients, then it's wrong.

It will be far more successful than that over-the-top bash you laid on for them last year. They'll be touchingly grateful. And not only will it remind them what agencies are for; it will also remind you.

Dear Jeremy: I am a marketing director in what is, in all seriousness, quite a boring company. My workers seem extra down at the moment, what with all the financial problems. Would a wacky tacky tie day help, do you think?

A: The reason your workers are down is less to do with the economy and more to do with being bored. And that's not Gordon Brown's fault and it's not Hank Paulson's fault: it's yours.

Marketing need never be boring. Marketing's like being paid to play Monopoly - with real money and a real chance of going to jail. If you're not hooked on Monopoly, you shouldn't be a marketing director.

To energise your workers, stop calling them workers and make their work fun. To plunge them deeper into gloom, hold a wacky tacky tie day.

- Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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