Advertising is an exciting industry to be part of. This is not just because you're involved in the lively worlds of creativity, media and young people with Instagram accounts they're desperate to make look interesting; but also because, mediocre or not, you're at the constant risk of being fired.
Of course, very few people are actually fired these days. Instead, you're made into one of the three Rs: Redundant, Retrenched or Restructured. However it's described, standard business practice to cope with the occasional drop in revenue is to ritually sacrifice a few staff on the altar of maintaining a decent profit margin.
Government legislation states that rather than being instantly incinerated, any surplus staff should be "managed out" over an extended period. This law was aimed at preventing drunk bosses from firing staff for being the wrong race, or for declining to have sex with them, which seems to make a lot of sense.
However, the unintended consequence is that it's now bloody difficult to get rid of anyone at all, even incompetent, lazy bastards who cook fish in the office microwave. In fact, as long as you can resist the temptation to attack your boss colleagues with a flame thrower then you're very unlikely to ever find yourself actually "fired".
When I joined Y&R London it was the second biggest agency in the UK. When I left, it had shrunk to the 18th. This extraordinary and prolonged feat of mismanagement left me with two important learnings: firstly, how not to run an advertising agency; and secondly, how best to avoid the redundancies that were occurring on an hourly basis.
Here are some suggestions to help the mediocre dodge the redundancy lottery.
If you can't be great, be useful
We've already established that you're not brilliant. So if someone asks you to do some tedious task that they can't get anyone else to help with, then do it. You've just made an ally for life. In times of financial stress, being "quite useful" is of far more benefit than being a wayward genius who makes working with them feel like passing a handful of staples.
Don't be a d**k
I haven't tried this one yet, but I'm told it works.
Only the paranoid survive
Read the room. Stay aware of the nagging possibility that things might not be as financially rosy in the company as the boss' new Mercedes might suggest. I'm not saying that fear is a way to produce more productive employees, but my experience is that pessimists are far more likely to hang on than those who think "everything is going brilliantly, and what harm can an iceberg do anyway"?
Don't get paid too much
When the finances start to go pear-shaped, the big bosses will pore over a list of employees and their salaries. Just like at the Pearly Gates there will be a quick cost/benefit analysis and the list will be split into the Quick and the Dead. It is not a pleasant meeting. Should your salary get out of kilter with your competence then you are walking around with a big target on your back. Junior employees who perform a useful role for very little salary are in a good position. I'm not saying that you should necessarily turn down a pay rise (though I have done) but it's wise for the mediocre employee to maintain a mediocre salary and ensure that your usefulness always exceeds your cost to the business.
Have enough 'F**k you! Money'
If at all possible, I suggest you cut back on your Espresso Martini intake and put the proceeds into a "F**k You Money" fund. This won't stop you losing your job, it just makes things a lot more comfortable if you do. The expression derives from what you say when you walk away from a job you can't stand for a second longer, knowing that you have enough cash for a couple of months without having to live in a car and drink your own urine.
Don't get too old
Old people are viewed with suspicion by management. They tend to get pay rises because of their length of tenure rather than an actual improvement in their work. The age at which you are considered "old" varies between industries, but in advertising this is anyone over 26.
Look like you're working hard
Take to walking briskly around the office carrying several sheets of paper and humming classical music. If anyone asks what you're doing, point at something on the paper, shake your head, shrug, then move on.
Actually work hard
I realise that for some people this is a big ask, but if all else fails it could be worth a try. You might be surprised.
'I did everything you said and I still lost my job!'
Relax. It happens to everyone and they almost always end up happier. Unless of course you're the one who cooks fish in the office microwave, in which case you deserve everything you get.
• Paul Catmur worked in advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is the fourth in a series of articles about how to make the best out of not being the best