Ask Bullmore: Should I tell my employer I'm launching my own brand?

Ask Bullmore: Should I tell my employer I'm launching my own brand?

Campaign's agony uncle answers your career dilemmas.

Dear Jeremy, I’m working on plans to launch my own spirits brand, using all my experience as an account director running a booze account for the agency I work for. I’ve got some great partners and I don’t think I need to be involved full-time. In fact, evenings and weekends might be enough. But should I be open about my plans with my employer? Any advice?

Let me get this straight. You’re using the experience you’ve gained from working on a client’s business to set up a business of your own that must be, however insignificantly, in competition with that client; while at the same time concealing your plans from the agency that’s been paying you to acquire that experience.

Given all this, your reluctance to be open is understandable. You surely can’t be stupid enough to expect either your agency or your client to congratulate you on your entrepreneurialism, offer to help fund your start-up and wish you all the luck in the world.

Of course you need to come clean. In fact, you’ve probably left it too late but it may just be worth a try.

You should start with the client because, for obvious reasons, that will be your more difficult conversation. Say that, since working on their business, you’ve become seriously interested in the drinks trade and are anxious to learn more about it.

Say you’ve become increasingly aware that advisors are dangerously protected from the harsh realities of the marketplace – of profit and loss; of success and failure; of pricing and distribution – and so can be unrealistic in the advice that they give.

As a result, and purely in the interests of the client, you’re thinking of sinking your own money into a new spirits brand. You believe that this hands-on experience will make both you and the agency more realistic and therefore more effective advisors. You ask for the client’s formal agreement.

In the event that the client, up to the highest level, swallows this self serving string of deceit, you can then confidently inform your agency that all is well, and your agency will proudly publicise the fact that they encourage their executives to take part in commercial ventures as part of their professional development.

But, in fact, what will happen is this. You will put your weaselly case to your immediate client, who will reject it with the contempt it deserves. And will then call your agency boss to enquire whether your boss has been fully aware of your extracurricular activity in setting up in direct competition with one of his most important clients?

Your next conversation with your boss will be a memorable one. You may find that you have more time than you had anticipated to devote to your new venture.

Dear Jeremy, I’m considering hiring a celebrated copywriter from the past. But as I look at his CV, all I can think of is that he is making a lot of his past, suggesting his present is not up to much. Or maybe I should stop thinking of the traditional notion of a career as being this steady upward path. He used to be brilliant in his heyday, and I still like and admire him. And it will also mean that, as an agency, we will be seen as being forward-looking, giving a chance to not just the millennials but also the over-50s. What do you think?

Taking on people who are over the age of 50 may or may not reveal your agency to be forward-looking but that’s not why you should consider taking him on.

If he was a good writer 20 years ago, the chances are he’s a good writer now. But I do mean writer. Don’t expect him to challenge orthodoxies, push envelopes or bust categories. If he can write clear, cliché-free, evocative English, if he can invent a purpose-built style of writing that brands a brand as precisely as a logo can, then you may not know it but you need him.

Good written copy is so rare today that we’ve forgotten that it’s possible. So we stick it in the top-left-hand corner, reverse it out of pale yellow and hope that no-one reads it. And they don’t. Give him his head.

Dear Jeremy, I’ve just moved my ad account to a new agency and am having second thoughts. When is it too soon to call another review?


Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.

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