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On the Campaign couch

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A client has asked me if her nephew can do work experience at our agency. We’re fortunate to have more applicants than we can take on. Is it wise to deny her preferential treatment and not let her kin jump the queue?

I used to hate it when clients made this request of me. If you like to think, however privately, that you’ve still got a principle or two, clients asking for personal favours puts you uncomfortably to the test. In the end, we invariably agreed.

And this is how I squared my conscience. The best client-agency relationships, like the best brand relationships, are soundly based on performance but with a powerful infrastructure of affection. When an agency loses a valued client, the loss is far more than a financial one. It hurts. So when valued clients ask if you can take on a daughter or a nephew for a couple of weeks’ work experience, it may not be an arrogant abuse of their master-servant standing; it may be exactly the kind of request that friends often make of friends. It suggests, if nothing else, that a client thinks well enough of your agency’s culture to want someone close to them exposed to it. Furthermore, the alternative offers nothing. Few attitudes are quite as unappealing as someone smugly standing on principle for absolutely no discernible purpose.

So I think you should take on your client’s nephew – and do so with unconfected pleasure.

(When I reluctantly asked my old agency if they could accommodate a grandson for a week, I tried to make it as easy as possible for them to say no. I’m still not sure how I’d have felt if they had; and remain extremely grateful that they didn’t.)

I gather that women are in control of the majority of household expenditure but account for less than half of the income. Why are men happy to cede this economic decision-making power and what does it mean for marketers?

How can it be that someone of such awe-inspiring innocence reads Campaign? Perhaps you’re a bachelor of independent means? Perhaps you’ve never been into what we in marketing call a "shop"? Perhaps you send your man out for provisions?

Despite the arrival of the Emancipated Woman and the New Man, much of the world still works like this.

Men and women are different. Women have babies; men don’t. Both men and women earn money but, in part because they don’t have babies, many men earn more. Women are better at looking after the home and feeding families. Many of them like shopping while many men don’t. Men like buying cars. So sophisticated marketers, often guided by a technique called "research", try to appeal to both men and women according to the specific object being marketed.

Is there anything else I can help you with?

I have an established career and am well-known in the industry. I was also ingenious enough to join Twitter in the early days, but not wise enough to know how well it would do. I now have 20,000 followers, but my funny-at-the-time Twitter handle is creativeprick66. Should I change it?

What makes you think it was funny at the time? Did friends and colleagues thump you on the back and cry "Oh my, Jez, what a really amusing Twitter handle! Maureen and I just creased when we saw it and we’ve been holding our sides ever since!"?

You clearly see yourself as a figure of some importance in the advertising world and feel that this youthful attempt at wit doesn’t sit very well with your new self-image. And you’re right: it doesn’t. And that’s exactly why you should leave it alone.

It was silly then and it’s silly now; but it’s a little less silly than it was because the impact of words tends to decay over time. If you change it, not only will you restore its potency but your 20,000 followers and your 34 real friends will instantly leap to the same conclusion: that you’ve become irredeemably humourless and self-regarding. Which, by the sound of it, you have.

So don’t ditch it. For the very first time, it might actually have some value. It serves as a tiny fragment of evidence that you might, after all, still be a paid-up member of the human race.

‘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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