The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Carl Hopkins

Questions Answered: Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum, Administrator

June 11, 2008 | 8 min read

From a lusty office romance to catching the eye of a difficult client, the minefield of today’s marketing landscape can be dangerous to manoeuvre through. The Drum’s Agency Agony Uncle is here, though, to help you steer the safest path.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I travel a lot in my job throughout the UK, so much so that I am not able to see as much of my wife and baby daughter as I would have hoped. I am missing her grow up, and am not sure how to go to my boss and discuss the situation.

Don’t go to your boss, go to your wife. Your daughter and wife are your real boss. Talk with them, figure out what you want as a family regarding your work/life balance and then when you know what you want as a family then go talk to your boss and tell him or her. Don’t make demands but know what you would like the outcome to be. If they cannot accommodate what’s right for your family then you may have to move on. Your boss, if they are sympathetic and supportive, will hopefully help you. Go armed with what’s right for your family then regardless of what happens with your boss, should it be a negative response, you know you will have the support of those that are really more important to you. You can get another job any time; you cannot get this time with your daughter again.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’m really pissed off. A client we unsuccessfully pitched for a few months ago has used a concept from the creative work we brought to the pitch. How much damage would it do to the agency’s reputation if we were to name and shame them? Is it worth the hassle or should we just accept that ‘it happens?’

Yes it does happen and no you shouldn’t accept it. Have you talked with the client or the client’s ‘boss’, as the upper echelons may not realise how sneaky your client contact was. Also if pointed out to them, then the dirty rotters may pay – put it this way if they fall out with you what have you lost? They are not your client, they haven’t paid you and if they simply deny it and ignore your demands then they are not the people you want as a client anyway. Start by talking, then demanding, then name and shame.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Myself and two business partners started our digital agency six years ago and have steadily built the team to around 30 staff. The company is still managed by the three of us, but with one of the directors going off on maternity leave, we were wondering whether now is the right time to get a second-tier management team in place. Do you think this is wise and how do you suggest we go about it?

First off all congrats on the steady build and success of your business and secondly commiserations on losing a partner for the next umpteen months! ‘Maternity leave and the negative impact on business’ – there’s a whole bunch of issues right there! But back to the question in hand and away from the bun in the oven. Tiers of ‘management’ can be a good thing to give larger groups of people some sort of ownership and a forum for decision-making in their company environment. BUT it can also distance employees from the founders/directors. Bear in mind, it is these people who started the business that the ‘employees’ may enjoy having a direct relationship with and a new tier may make them feel somewhat disenfranchised. I think you should lose the word ‘management’ in your

thinking and focus on the principle of ‘teams’. Effective teams are quite small – four to six people – so bear that in mind and consider creating teams based on responsibilities not management. Instead of a new layer of management why not create a team focused on new business issues, a team focused on cost saving issues, a team based on staff issues etc. Then no one has seniority and each team takes some ‘work’ from the now-reduced board but the majority still has a direct reporting line back to the board. In your team of 30 you will find and already be aware of the different strengths of some of your staff who may be quite junior who might have a really positive impact on your business given the opportunity.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I am infatuated with my boss. I can’t stop thinking of her. I’m sure she likes me too. What should I do?

If she or you are married then take a cold shower and get over it – you’ve said it yourself you are ‘infatuated’. If, however, you are both single, then tell her and the following scenarios may happen; 1. She does fancy you too and you can have a passionate relationship and live happily ever after. 2. She thinks you’re a bit of a knob and slaps a restraining order on your stalking ass. 3. You are rejected and then humiliated and you have to leave. 4. You are rejected; she is embarrassed and has to find a reason to fire you.

Even if scenario one is the outcome, your colleagues will think you’re a bit of a knob and no longer trust you They will think you are being treated more favourably than them and so you will be excluded from their ‘inner circle’ and once again you will end up leaving. While this is happening, your new found ‘Girl – Boss – Friend’ will be thought of as a bit creepy to be sleeping with staff. She will find it difficult to manage you as you have seen all of her cellulite and that embarrassing mole/scar/birth mark she always covers up. Also she will start to become paranoid that you may be telling your chums her favourite positions and that she snores. While at the same time her fellow directors and maybe her boss will start treating her differently thinking she tells you all the company secrets every time you engage in whatever despicable and degrading activities you carry out each night. So her peers will oust her or downsize your ass out of there too – so good luck with that. Trust me; I married a member of staff.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Are government tendering processes worth the effort?

I hate them... the tenders not the government – although I’m not a fan of them either. Tenders are hugely time consuming, enormously frustrating and ordinarily fruitless. If there is a trick to tenders, it is ‘officially’ to use the language of the body you are applying too. A contact of mine at the DWP said they flicked through the documents and if you used phrases such as ‘sustainability’, ‘positive economic and social impact’ etc. etc. then they didn’t mind putting their name to it as it seemed to back up the policies of the time.

An ‘un-official’ way to be successful in your tendering process is to find out the decision makers within the tendering body, for example Yorkshire Forward, and get to meet them (they are at every network event you ever go to). Befriend them, wine and dine them, get to see them when there is no tender process underway and then when your application hits their desk you will be viewed favourably. I know of one body and every time they put out a tender I could tell you the three Leeds-based agencies (all very good I must add) who would win. As much as tenders are meant to be a level playing field, they are not. In fact as they supposedly lack any personal approach, the decision must be made on such things as postcode, language, green policies and price. All very frustrating, when what ultimately binds our agency/client relationships is exactly that – ‘a relationship’ between people, not a pile of policies and health and safety systems.

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

Carl Hopkins

More from Carl Hopkins

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +