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Carl Hopkins Feature England

Uncle Carl

By The Drum | Administrator

February 7, 2008 | 7 min read

Dear Uncle Carl,

Remember the good old days, where a three-hour lunch with a client was standard practice? I’m sure you do. It was a great way of adding depth and understanding to a relationship and I want to know whether you think it’s time to bring them back.

Not sure I do – I was too busy working late in a creative dept eating Mucky Ds while the ‘suits’ swanned off for long liquid lunches… You are right though, those days have gone. Business is all terribly serious nowadays and everyone has their head down and is, well to be honest, a little scared! Clients are not in jobs-for-life anymore and are under tremendous pressure to deliver – they cannot justify a three hour and three course lunch at the latest trendy eatery and have to suffice with a pastie from Greggs! I would also suggest that a lot of ‘client’ companies are populated with pretty lightweight individuals who are just doing a job and not interested in building lasting relationships with ‘arty’ advertising types. The lunches I remember were always with the top brass and that’s where the problem lies. If you are not lunching with your clients perhaps you do not have the right client contact – aim higher, if that fails it might be just you are a very dull individual. I can recall many of my clients over the years and believe me a Greggs pastie would have been my first choice before three hours of smiling politely at some greasy-pole-career-climbing-talentless-twenty-four-year-old-know-it-all-know-nothing-lightweight-air-head… sorry I drifted off, what was the question?

Dear Uncle Carl,

We recently appointed a heavy-hitter to drive the business forward. Early signs suggest he’s fulfilling this promise, including getting us on two major pitches. However, he’s also managed to upset half the work-force with his headstrong approach. We have some talented people here, but I’m afraid we might lose them. Any helpful pointers?

Interesting. First congrats on landing the ‘heavy-hitter’ (HH), it’s hard enough finding a person who can have a real positive impact on the business in the first place. ‘Big’ people, come with ‘big’ problems it seems. Any individual in an agency has to have differing facets/faces and they can’t all be perfect. It seems that HH’s client facing facet is good – which is excellent and you seem to work well with HH so it’s just his internal facet that needs a polish. HH seems okay with half your staff so that’s cool. Now just sit HH down and tell HH where he may be rubbing a small minority of staff up the wrong way, but also tell him how valued he is and what a positive impact he is having on the business. Try and direct HH to areas of no conflict within the business while still generating returns. Then take the staff that are a bit ruffled and explain the benefits of the ‘new boy’ to the overall business and to their own areas of responsibility. If they cannot buy into it then it’s their problem not yours and if HH continues to annoy people then you may have to choose to cut him out or live with upset staff.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m a bit down on my luck at the moment, do you have any fool-proof pre-pitch superstitions?

One statement and one question. Never had any pre-pitch superstitions, except I never rehearsed as I was rubbish and it made my actual pitch ‘flat’, I would make copious notes and then never use them and spend most of my time telling others they would be great – in the hope they were actually simply ‘good’! As for your luck, I’m guessing you have lost a few pitches in a row so the thing to do is try get smart and avoid the pitch scenario as you may not be very good at it. Get in touch with me I may be able to help! On ‘luck’, it makes me smile as I have been called lucky so many times. I truly believe you make your own luck. The more opportunities you make and pursue, the harder you work, and the more effort you apply oddly enough, the luckier you get. Don’t wait to get ‘lucky’ – start getting smarter.

Dear Uncle Carl,

We like to court publicity, like many other agencies, but recently we had some negative coverage in the (mentioning no names) trade press. What’s been your approach to PR-ing your agency?

Well I believe you have to ‘do it’. It’s a channel we tell our clients to use yet sometimes seem reluctant to use ourselves. Top Tip – don’t try to do it in-house and have your copywriters do it for you – it won’t work. The problem that you have come across is that once you raise your profile you are also there to be shot at by sometimes lazy and often ill-informed journalists. My PR wife tells me the worst thing you can do if mentioned negatively is not to be available for comment as that sends out a “yes, it’s true” message. Don’t over worry it, not everyone reads every article and even less people believe every word they read. An ‘Uncle Carl’ observation is that many agencies take on a PR agency when they are either just about to move, want to sell, or have just axed a big chunk of staff and wish to pretend all is okay. If you are going to do it then have a focused and structured approach, be available for journos and interviews and it should bring you profile, staff and client opportunities – it still does for me, who knows one day you may have your own column!

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m considering leaving the industry. It’s been good to me, don’t get me wrong, but of late I’ve been struggling for motivation, it hurts to get out of bed and I’m really having trouble remembering why or how I got into it in the first place. Is there a way to bring back my mojo or is it time to move on?

On first reading it seems like you have back and memory problems if it hurts you to get out of bed and you cannot remember why! How old are you 84?

I can only recount my own experience – the industry had been good to me too but I felt I had done what I wanted to with the people and clients I had around me, and there were other ‘signs’ and opportunities of change ahead of me. People approached me with new ideas and I was getting married. I too lacked that spring in my step so decided to change paths. You have to decide if this is just the end of the winter blues for you, or your business needs a shot in the arm and a new direction, which may come from your own teams if you asked them. Or is it just a life stage thing and you have created something that can carry on without you or has it, like you, run out of steam? So it might be time for you to go. Talk to people you admire or who have ‘been there and done that’ to help you think it through. But if you haven’t got the enthusiasm then you haven’t got a future and perhaps neither have the people around you. So do everyone a favour and ‘make a change’.

Troubled? send your questions for the drum’s agony uncle to Or, If you wish to meet with Carl to talk about your business, then email him on

Carl Hopkins Feature England

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