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On the Campaign couch

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One of my employees (a bit of a character, to say the least, but a talented art director) has asked permission for time off to appear on a reality TV show. I’m worried that he’ll act like a fool and drag my agency’s good name down with him. Is it reasonable to tell him so?

If the IPA ever decided to construct an examination paper designed to determine the suitability or otherwise of its members to become agency chief executives, this should be one of its questions. And, if you took it, you would fail.

You’re terrified he’s going to bring your agency into disrepute but, at the same time, you don’t want to forbid him to go on the show because that would reveal you as a gutless old suit. So, rather than make the sort of decision that you’re paid to make, you’re going to tell him: "OK, Grainger. But, make no mistake, if it all goes pear-shaped, there will be big trouble, I can tell you. And don’t say I didn’t warn you." Either say no, or: "Good luck and go for it."

After nearly a decade working at one employer, I decided to broaden my experience at a new agency. But now I have joined, I’m finding it difficult to maintain my confidence levels. There is so much to learn and I’m constantly worried what my new colleagues think of me. How can I boost my self-esteem?

Having spent the best part of ten years at your last agency, you’ll have witnessed a great many new people joining. Try to remember how you felt as one of the old guard. I bet you were quite polite and helpful – but I bet you also reserved judgment for a month or so. It’s entirely natural for incumbents to study newcomers warily – and their motives are mixed.

Part of them hopes that some shiny new talent has arrived to strengthen overall corporate firepower. Part of them fears that this shiny new talent may make the existing troops seem drab in comparison. And part of them is quite simply cautious about change. In an active agency, there are always quite enough uncertainties flying around, thank you very much, so the last thing that is needed is some overconfident Johnny-come-lately wanting to up sticks to Shoreditch or introduce hot-desking.

Because people in agencies live such precarious lives, or like to imagine they do, the familiar is particularly precious; and any potential threat must be studied at close quarters before, gradually, permission to become a member is imperceptibly granted.

You don’t feel like a threat and you don’t act like a threat. But you’re being studied at close quarters all the same. And you’re doubly troubled. You’ve left your old security blanket behind you and you haven’t yet been issued with a new one. It’s not surprising that your confidence levels are low.

But, please believe me, there’s no shortcut to acceptance. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to buy new friends. Just wait until you have the chance to be a member of a group that has been assigned to a project – and do that, selflessly and well.

And, the next thing you know, you’ll be saying: "Who’s that guy with the ginger goatee who has just joined Jodie’s group?"

I’m thinking of buying five pairs of the same trousers and five identical shirts and wearing the same thing to work every day. Do you think this is a good idea? Will having a consistent style – like Steve Jobs or Einstein – give me a recognisable brand?

Oh, yes. Certainly, it will. Quite quickly too. And this is the dominant characteristic that the brand you become will be recognised for: you’ll be seen to be sad.

Your transparent attempt to occupy Jobs and Einstein territory will prompt your less compassionate colleagues to mock you mercilessly; and that will be the best part. Your kinder colleagues – those whose respect you would most like to earn – will feel an overwhelming, despairing sense of pity for you. They had hoped to be able to like you and admire you – but you have now denied them that chance. They will still be considerate enough to say nothing – nothing at all – so you’ll find yourself quite lonely; day after day after day, just you and your identical shirts and trousers…

Maybe you need to keep thinking…?

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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