Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum, Administrator

May 1, 2008 | 7 min read

Most of us have our problems. Some of us just have more problems than others. Yet, our Agency Agony Uncle doesn’t have any problems – only solutions. Once again, Uncle Carl is on hand to offer his solutions to your problems.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Every five minutes at our place an email goes round asking us to contribute to a collection to get someone a gift for colleagues that are pregnant, getting hitched, having a birthday, having a baby, leaving the company, having another baby. Will it ever end?

It won’t end. It was a pet hate of mine, well actually it bugged a lot of the staff too, so eventually we put out a note saying that collections could take place but could not be ‘promoted’ via the email system. It is a form of emotional blackmail (I can feel a rant coming on). Let’s go through the ‘occasions’ from the point of view of someone within the agency:

Birthdays? Sod that, we all have them! If you have any real mates they will buy you a card and a drink and as I’m not your aunt, you won’t be getting a tenner in your card from me.

Having a baby? You got jiggy, now pay the bill. Not my problem and I don’t care – all it means is I am giving you money to take six months off while I do your work and then you will decide not to come back and we will probably be e-mugged into another ‘farewell’ collection.

Getting hitched? Invite me to the wedding and I might buy you a set of towels from Matalan.

And my personal favourite - the ‘leaving collection’? Why oh why do staff harass each other to put money into an envelope and wrack their brains for some half-hearted amusing comment to write in a card when what they should really be saying is “look, most of us didn’t like you in the first place and the other half never actually dealt with you, and you will be totally forgotten within two days or replaced by a new photocopier, and why should I give you my hard-earned cash when you were not very good at your job, which I will now have to do as the management will see your leaving as a cost saving? We write ‘good luck in your new job’ when instead we should write “Good riddance, I hope they find out you’re not very good and you’re fired in a month”.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Do you put any stock in agency’s using self-promotional mailers?

I do. But the question shouldn’t be ‘do I put any stock in them?’ it should be ‘does the recipient?’ I have heard stories of marketing directors receiving one ‘quirky’ mailer per day. Another story was of a newly appointed marketing director arriving at their new job to see their desk groaning under the weight of action men, bonsai trees and squeezy stress toys from a variety of agencies attempting to attract their attention. So, watch your timing and as with all customer communications, make it about them and not necessarily about you.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m creative director of a Leeds-based agency and I’ve reached a stage in my career where I’d like to work for myself. However, I don’t really know where to start when breaking away. Should I be having quiet words with talented and like-minded colleagues?

Do you have work lined up, do you have clients lined up, if they are existing agency clients will you be prohibited from working with them, have you registered a company name, have you registered and built a website, have you opened a bank account, do you have the support of your friends and family, have you got the appropriate equipment, have you a credit line with appropriate suppliers, how will you position your offering, can you do new business as well as the creative as well as the client handling and the administration, do you have a good accountant, will you be registered for VAT, where will you operate from, are you a business or simply freelance, when you go on holiday - if you can afford one - who will look after your accounts, have you sorted out insurance, have you worked out how long you can sustain your lifestyle without receiving any payment, have you worked out how much you need to bill to maintain your lifestyle...?

By all means have a ‘quiet word’ with like-minded colleagues but have a few more quiet words with other people first. Don’t rush into it, do your homework. It is not as easy as you think and if you think you work hard now with someone giving you money every month when you are on holiday and ill, then believe me, it’s going to get a lot harder if you take this step - be prepared and good luck.

Dear Uncle Carl,

We’re a northern agency that was recently asked by a prospective client whether we’d be receptive to the idea of opening a second office in the south west. Do you think these kinds of moves should be avoided or is it worth a go?

I think opening an office because your client thinks it’s a good idea is a very, very bad idea. Surely if they like the ‘office’ they currently work with, it’s because of the people within it. So, if you open another office anywhere on the planet it’s unlikely that it will have those people in it.

Dig deeper with your client and perhaps what they really want is you to visit them more or you can buy them video conferencing if they don’t like to travel - I did just that three times!

Dear Uncle Carl,

Are great brands with foolish clients still worth working with?

I work with lots of businesses now and I tell them that if they offer a service it cannot be quick, cheap and correct all at the same time. They have to pick two out of the three - if they try and do all three they will fail. Well, it seems there is a client version which means you can never have a great client, a great brand and a great budget at the same time! So yes, you can work with the ‘foolish’ client and they are a great brand and IF they have great budgets, but IF they are a great brand but a foolish client with no budgets, then f**k it and leave them to some other agency sap!

Are you troubled? Don’t be. send all your questions for the drum’s agony uncle to Or, If you wish to meet with carl to talk about your business, then simply email him on


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