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On the Campaign couch

An agency chief executive writes: Merry Christmas, Jeremy! We're a small agency and getting wind of a big, fat Christmas pitch pumping through the pipeline. I'm going to need all hands on deck. But how do I break the news to my staff without destroying their morale?

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You don’t "break the news"; as a creative organisation, you tackle the problem creatively.

Being a small agency, you can involve a high proportion of your staff. Get them together and say: "We’ve got a fair chance of pitching for a big, fat piece of business – and we’ve got a fair chance of winning it. If we did, it would give us the best possible start to next year. But there’s a problem: it would mean most of us working over the Christmas period. And that, entirely understandably, would be extremely unpopular not only with you but with your families. So I’m quite prepared to turn this opportunity down: some things are more important than new business.

"But, before I do so, I thought I’d set you all a creative challenge – and it’s this: what could we do, what actions could we take, that would make you and your families at least tolerate such an invasion of their precious, private time? Once you’ve thought about it, and come to the conclusion that it’s impossible, that’s fine: we’ll pull out immediately. But if you think it’s possible, please let me know exactly how.  There’s bound, of course, to be a cost attached – but, as long as it’s not silly money, that shouldn’t be a problem."

If they’re any good, they’ll realise that the crunch moment is going to be when staff members (them) have to break the news to their families. If they’re any good, they’ll think of imaginative ways of softening that blow: not just cash bribery, but various inventive forms of personal involvement. They’ll think about an open day in the office; a room for kids to draw pictures and raise hell; a base from which families can go shopping and return to for a glass of something; use of Dial-a-Cab; hampers for harried husbands; pantomime tickets. And if they do invent such a plan, which they then present to you – and you approve it – then, as the authors of that plan, they’ll automatically support it.

It’s not as sneaky as it sounds. You’ll have to honour your promise to pull out if that’s the verdict. But the chances are they’ll go for it. And they’ll also put their all into that pitch. It will be quite a moment when you win it.

Why do so many very wealthy people end up giving away so much of their money?

I’ve no idea why you should think I might have anything informed to say on this subject. My imagination isn’t fertile enough to know what it’s like to be very wealthy. (Though I have observed that, when very wealthy people do give away a great deal of money, they’re invariably left with more money than anyone else in the world.)

If I was very wealthy, I’d give away a lot simply in order to say to people who came to me asking for money: "No, you can’t have any money because I’ve already given most of it away."

Dear Jeremy, At our Christmas dinner with our agency, the account director on my business offered me some drugs. Should I be appalled or is this a sign of a good relationship?

It’s probably more a sign that your account director was drunk; but it might also be a sign not of a good relationship but of a potentially really, really bad one.

One of these days, you’ll think about putting your business up for review. You may not think you will, but you will. And that’s when you’ll be forever grateful that you tactfully declined your account director’s kind offer.

The moment an individual client becomes in any way personally obligated to an agency person, that relationship has become corrupt. Even if it’s never mentioned, once an agency person knows something about a client that the client would rather his boss didn’t know, neither can be entirely natural again. The knowledge will hover mutely between them; and when you say "Nigel, I’m sure it’s just a formality, but our procurement guys are suggesting…", Nigel will remember what he knows and so will you.

But you did refuse those drugs, didn’t you? So that’s all right, then.

Happy Christmas.

"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, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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