Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, towards the end of last year I was unfairly dismissed. In the following months, the agency HR department has made a complete dog's dinner of trying to cover this up, leaving me in a very strong position for negotiating a pay-off or contesting a tribunal.

However, I'm keen to have my day in court because it will give me a chance to put across my side of the story, expose the questionable practices of my employers and might help others. Do you think it will be worth it or should I just take the money and run?

A: Let's just think about that day in court. Will it, I wonder, be the day of your dreams - or will it be like most days in court?

In your dreams, thanks entirely to your immaculately logged and presented evidence, your ex- employers are exposed as incompetent rogues. Their defence is incoherent, their demeanour pitiful, their humiliation total. The court congratulates you on your mastery of employment law and awards you full costs and the highest compensation ever recorded. As a direct result of the resultant publicity, you're offered seven jobs, all at higher levels of remuneration than the one from which you were so disgracefully dismissed.

However, most days in court aren't a bit like that. Although it will be confirmed that you were unfairly fired, it will also become clear that they couldn't wait to get rid of you because you were widely thought to be poisonous. Your recourse to the law will be seen as vindictive and money-grubbing. You'll be left with little money, no reputation and no prospects: an unpropitious start to the worst year for employment since 1929.

If your case is as good as you believe it to be, resist the temptation of a high noon moment and trade it in for an immaculate reference. That's what you should ask (and if necessary, demand) of your ex-employers. Take the money, too, of course; but that piece of paper will be a great deal more valuable.

Q: I'm a marketer and recently put my business up to pitch and, after a hard-fought battle, retained my agency. However, I know there have been rumblings recently about dissatisfaction with this happening more and more - with agencies even going so far as suggesting the client pay the losing agencies a penalty fee. Will this ever happen? I'm considering it.

A: Let's suppose that you determine to do it. And let's suppose that the total sum involved exceeds the limit you're personally authorised to commit. You need to speak to your financial director.

FD: This is a great deal of money, Nigel. What's it for?

You: It's to compensate five ad agencies for the work they did in attempting to win our business.

FD: You were not impressed by any of them?

You: Our incumbent agency was better.

FD: Had you informed these other agencies that our incumbent agency had as good a chance as any of emerging the winner?

You: Yes.

FD: Prior to the commencement of the review, did you agree to reimburse those agencies who failed to impress you?

You: No.

FD: Is it customary for the losing agencies to be compensated?

You: No.

FD: Is it not the case that advertising agencies - a seriously over-supplied market - universally accept the costs of competitive tendering as a marketing overhead?

You: Yes, but -

FD: Let's see if I've got this right. Five agencies agreed to prepare speculative recommendations. They all knew the odds were five to one against. None protested, none withdrew, no participation fee was demanded and no subsequent complaints have been lodged. Yet you are now suggesting that this company voluntarily pays large sums of money to five agencies, not one of which demonstrated exceptional business sense or creativity. Am I right?

You: You could put it like that.

FD: Nigel, this is 2009. The CEO has already renounced his bonus for last year. He may have to make some 12 per cent of the workforce redundant. I happen to know that he's free at the moment. Shall we go in together with your imaginative proposal?

You: Honestly, Walter, it was just a thought ...

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

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