There is a special breed of ad men in Uganda who I call the “self-proclaimed advertising gurus” because, truth be told, they hold little capacity for knowledge acquisition and even less capacity for proper knowledge processing and implementation. They are extremely damaging to their agencies and clients alike.
The individuals I’m describing here fit pretty much into the same scenario: a guy – it has to be a guy; little chubby or just skidding off the fitness line because of all after-work beers and tequila shots. Losing his eye-sight for not eating carrots as a kid, so glasses give a hint of sophisticated, quasi-intelligent look. Hair must be a bit of a mess. It’s not dreads because he thinks dreads will make him look gay but it’s those whatchamacallit short tangles that can be combed if there’s a serious client meeting in the offing. There will be a tragic story about his difficult childhood somewhere in the mix. He’ll tell you how he’s self-made orphan who lived on the streets and scavenged for life, paid for his own schooling and suffered immensely till he got his first break. Into advertising. And now – he owns the place.
He’s big and loud. He laughs loud and in such a way that everyone hears him, even the neighbours want to know what he’s laughing about, thirty times a day, so loudly that he stops everyone’s work in the tracks. Interestingly, people around him (after getting to know him) don’t laugh much – they are probably way beneath him on the intelligence scale so they don’t understand the humour and sarcasm – or they simply don’t have the time for his blunt, sexist and rude bullshit.
His talk is all about his own greatness, his success, his achievements. You may think the agency that employs this guy has just won national lottery in the US or Germany, he paints himself in colours of pure gold and his contribution to the agency, in his words, is every day worth his own weight in pure gold. But his success with clients is – without agency team’s push and support – pure talk and no signature on the dotted line.
Clients love him though – especially female clients. His sleazy ways of spilling his charm bring about unnecessary winds formed by batting of eyelashes in any girl-filled meeting room. He picks the ones to flirt with, with almost surgical precision. He doesn’t stop at flirting, situation permitting. He will go all the way but in a creepy, secretive way so no two girls know about each other and yet they may well be sharing the same office, in some cases even the same desk.
Everything is a game for him and – everyone is game. He will take his sweet time toying with his work, ‘researching’ as he says, ‘beefing it up’ but on the day of presentation you will be in deep shit if you don’t have an alternative presentation or if you didn’t have a gun on his head for the past 48 hours.
Girls are game, best game for him. Agency juniors, especially those assigned to him for coaching, freshly recruited, inferior to him, vulnerable and available. They laugh at his jokes after a few drinks. They easily share of themselves – after all, he’s their mentor – and they easily end up in bed with him, filling their workdays with regret after the bliss is over (or as soon as he jumps at another one).
A child or two will happen as a consequence. A few rings will be placed on a few fingers. That “Diana” ring that you buy inflight on KQ is always handy; his wife never got one so even if she finds it in his pocket it will be her surprise gift. He carefully ensures that his girls never become friends with one another because they’d be staring at each others rings and wondering WTF.
He is pompous and self-absorbed. He knows it all. His way is the way to lead the agency ahead. He knows the best solutions, he knows what will work, he knows all the insights – with not a day of research, not a moment in the field with consumers, not a question to anyone. He gets it all on the internet. Including complete creative solutions to slap the Creative Director on the face with. All downloaded as it’s been implemented in other markets before. All future award-winning stuff.
He is the best commercial brain ever. He can add two and two and read his own payslip – he can, I assure you. But to viably distribute the budget of any sorts – including his own salary – is a trick. He is in the MDs office once every two months with requests for advance. Remember, he earns as much as all the agency juniors put together, but it’s never enough for his lavish lifestyle. When he gets a ‘no’ the manager is a total shit person, no matter what. And the world will know it because his loud mouth will be talking and building interesting stories to tell. His imagination will add meticulous detail to substantiate on the credibility of his story.
He has nothing nice to say about the people from his past. He severs all the ties. He poisons relationships. He takes premeditated steps to break people apart – without realising that the paths cross, slowly but generously, and people meet again and again. His world is himself, his stories and unfortunate people who believe him.
The day he leaves is the day everyone sighs a breath of relief. The day he steps into the competing agency is the day we don’t celebrate – we actually feel sorry for the competition. There is a reason he is not starting his own business – he wouldn’t know where to begin. It is also uniquely easier getting jobs by agency-hopping (some of the hot gurus are moving countries as well). Sure, he has a great CV because that probation of three months here and six months there all of a sudden becomes several years with managing all of the agency’s accounts, even the ones the agency never had. The CV that had huge gaps becomes a hot one. Pity managers in East Africa don’t call each other to check who is it they are employing.
But they eventually realise who their advertising guru is: lazy, alcohol-comatose, sleep-deprived, pompous slow-motion guy who comes to work each morning only to sleep off the crazy night before. And soon enough, the boot is on the ass.
The resort is now on doing something new, like starting a digital agency or becoming a social media guru, or writing a blog or – for a few wise ones – sober up, get hold of a job and actually do it well and shut up about their own greatness for a while. All of a sudden we have these specialists who know it all about the media so new that it is still appearing on the budgets of only about 5% of advertising clients. There’s all that expertise and knowledge you’d think you are hiring the whole starting Facebook team itself in this one single man. And the wheels keep turning. Clients keep buying into it, agencies keep getting burnt, life goes on.
He thrives and survives. Until less and less drinks are bought at bars, until all the jokes are told, until all true colours come out on the surface. For such people parade their principles on the highway while their character travels through the dark forests.
You will spot this character in many people around you. Don’t judge them too harshly as some can still be enlightened. Some were led down the wrong path by their mentors, the earlier gurus. Some just don’t know better but are willing to shape up. Assess the damage they can cause rather the value they can create and decide carefully, knowing what you want to get out of them. And get it first.
For avoidance of doubt, there are several people I personally worked with who shaped the character described above, it is not about one single person although that one was a particularly diligent and quick learner.