On the Campaign couch: Should I speak openly about my poisonous office?

Play this carefully and your loathed job could turn out to have been by far your best career move to date, writes Jeremy Bullmore.

The industry is a small world. I recently parted ways with my brand employer because the general atmosphere was poison. I want to speak openly about my experiences but am afraid I won’t find another job. What should I do?

Start by putting your knowledge of human nature to good use. Yes – we are a small world. But that’s not to say that we all think the same, that we’re all on the same side or that none of us enjoys hearing scurrilous gossip about a key competitor.

What you mustn’t do is make a grand tour of pubs, clubs and executive placement agencies spraying unalloyed vitriol about your late, discarded employer.

To start with, you’ll get an attentive audience hoovering up every tacky detail, buying you drinks and begging for more. But soon – much sooner that you might think – the mood will change. Whatever the evidence, you’ll come across as a loser – and a bad, boring loser at that.

Soon, on your appearance, your oldest friends will look at their watches, tap their phones and sidle towards the nearest exit.

You say you want to speak openly about your experiences – and you should. But not to everyone who’s prepared to listen. And never until you’re asked.

You shouldn’t have much difficulty getting interviews – particularly with your former company’s closest competitors. Because it’s a small world, they’ll know you chose to leave – and they’ll be gagging to know why.

To start with, frustrate them. Just say that the company tolerated certain institutionalised practices that eventually drove you to hand in your notice. "No, no, no," you say, "I’d really rather not go into details."

When, crazed by curiosity, one of them asks you to join them for a drink, you can let a little more slip out; but, even then, stick firmly to a few demonstrable facts, show no signs of bitterness and don’t bad-mouth anyone.

By this time, nobody could begin to doubt that yours was a deeply principled resignation and that, were they to hire you, they would be acquiring a person not only of unusual integrity but also one capable of outstanding loyalty.

Play this carefully – and your time with that poisonous company could turn out to have been by far your best career move to date.

Dear Jeremy, Should all brands now be trying to have a social purpose? (I market Tabasco sauce.)

There’s a philosophical answer to this excellent question and then there’s a practical one. Let me start with the practical one.

I’m afraid there simply aren’t enough social purposes to go round. If every brand, including Tabasco, decided to adopt a social purpose, the available pool of social purposes would very soon be exhausted. This could lead to a semi-controlled market rather like domain names or personalised number plates.

"I’m afraid Geriatric Greyhounds was snapped up only today by Winalot. But I still have available District Nurses, Gender Equality and Make the Unauthorised Disposal of Chewing Gum a Criminal Offence. Chewing Gum is already under offer, though my sources suggest that they might well be open to a rather more open-handed approach…"

Philosophically, it makes a lot of sense for brands to be seen to be aware of their social context and to care about it; for the maker of man-made fibres, for example, to be conscious of their benign effect on the freeing up of agricultural land or for a stairlift company to champion general consideration for the elderly.

But for a brand such as Tabasco to pick a social cause at random – one with which it had absolutely no cultural connection – in the hope of winning the allegiance of consumers is, I’m delighted to say, the quickest way for such a brand to earn scorn and derision.

Why does the ad industry loathe itself so much?

Oh dear, I didn’t know it did. I know that it often takes itself too seriously, that it’s capable of honouring half-a-minute’s worth of enchanting commercial persuasion with the reverence normally reserved for King Lear and that it’s been known to defend itself on the grounds that it doesn’t really work.

But I didn’t know it loathed itself. I’ve been as critical of advertising as anyone – and I don’t.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free