Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the chief executive of one of London's leading agencies. One of my clients is an extremely prestigious brand but it has the most dreadful logo.

Ever since we started working with them, we've been sworn to silence on the topic. The FT has just called to ask me what I think of it. As an adman, I know that I should lie shamelessly on behalf of my client and say that it's fantastic. The trouble is that my mother told me never to lie and I don't think that I would sleep at night. Should I damn it with faint praise? Or do you have a better idea?

A: In 1913, at the beginning of his Synthetic Cubism period, Pablo Picasso painted Woman in an Armchair. Of it, Roger de Pilles, then the most revered art critic in Paris, wrote: "It is not merely a work of exceptional unsightliness; it has no discernible form and no integrity. We shall not be duped by reputation."

Three years later, in the same respected periodical, that same Roger de Pilles published a remarkable recantation. He advanced the theory that some outstanding works of art, in their very contempt for past convention, preceded the capacity for human appreciation. Of Woman in an Armchair, he wrote: "This work has not changed and nor, in essence, has its beholder. Yet what this beholder now beholds is beauty. It is a form of alchemy that only time bestows."

I suggest you remind the Financial Times of this story. They'll be impressed, your client will be grateful, your mother will be proud and your colleagues will simply think you're a bit of a prick. A reasonable outcome, I should have thought. And it should be safe. I'd be very surprised if anyone bothered to check on your story's veracity.

Q: We have a large American charity client who produces terrible advertising and direct marketing in the US, which we are required to run in the UK after "Anglicising" the copy. They are virtually unknown in the UK despite spending millions over the past three years. We continually show them great work speculatively across multiple media and clever strategic thinking but they all but ignore it. What should we do about this soul-destroying client? Put up, shut up, take the money and run?

A: This may well be a soul-destroying client but they also seem to be an agreeably profitable one. They ask you to do no more than turn some American words into English and they spend millions. You've done your best to persuade them to change their ways and have repeatedly produced alternative work at your own expense. You can't do more.

So if you decide to shut up and take the money, your conscience can be clear. I really don't think, when the inevitable time comes, that St Peter will have you underscored in his little black book.

However, as you obviously realise, there's one big potential disadvantage. You've taught your agency to maintain the highest of professional standards. You've publicly derided other agencies who practise the "what time would you like it to be?" school of account management. You ask your people to take personal risks when recommending adventurous work to their clients.

How can you square all that with your spineless decision to take the money and run?

So try a little management democracy.

Next time you get your agency together in one room, enlist their aid.

Show them the rejected work you've done. Show them how much money this client contributes to the bottom line. Show them, but with no exaggeration, the negative effect on the bonus pool were you to resign the business. Finally, remind them of the agency's guiding principles. Then invite them all to vote.

Voting must be by secret ballot. No-one will ever know how any individual voted.

You solemnly swear to abide by the majority's expressed wish, whatever the personal consequences for yourself.

Please let me know the outcome: I'd be fascinated to know.

What's your guess?

Q: How do I ensure my agency bosses don't find out I'm having cosy little chats with a headhunter? It does seem there are jobs out there after all.

A: Why don't you want your bosses to find out? Most people go to extreme lengths to make sure that their bosses do find out.

Bosses often behave like spouses: they begin to appreciate those close to them only when they discover that someone else is eyeing them with interest.

You clearly fear that you won't be offered another job; that your bosses will find out; and that that will confirm them in their growing suspicion about your dispensability.

They may be right.

- "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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