On the campaign couch...with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 June 2011 12:00AM

Q: Is there such a thing as a "small society", or is that a contradiction in terms?

On the campaign couch...with JB

A: Confusingly, one of the inspirations behind the Big Society is E F Schumacher's 70s book Small Is Beautiful. David Cameron has been known to quote it approvingly.

It's more a collection of essays than a book and it's full of wisdom and human understanding. I'm telling you that before revealing that Schumacher was a German-born economist who spent much of his later working life as an adviser to the National Coal Board. You don't expect a sensitive understanding of human nature to flow from the pen of German-born economists; at least, I didn't.

The title helped it become a bestseller but it's not an accurate summary of its thesis. Schumacher is a fierce proponent of balance. He's opposed to the unthinking worship of "giantism" but he's not opposed to size on principle. He simply points out that scale has a direct effect on human understanding, happiness, sense of belonging - and therefore on behaviour. If that was true in the 70s, it's more so now. His sub-title is more helpful: A Study Of Economics As If People Mattered.

The coalition government's enthusiasm for some sort of Wellbeing Index was probably prompted by Schumacher's famous belief that "there's more to life than GDP".

One of the many reasons why The Big Society continues to defy understanding is that the phrase strongly implies some huge, orchestrated, top-down programme of activity. Yet, if the Big Society's going to work, it will be as a result of millions of tiny bottom-up initiatives: from what Schumacher calls "lots and lots of small autonomous units". A small society isn't a contradiction in terms. Despite living in a global village, small societies are the only ones we instinctively feel part of. Put them together like a honeycomb and you'll get something pretty impressive - but don't expect me to understand it before it exists. If everyone could be encouraged to Think Small, we could end up with something Absolutely Huge.

Q: My client is trying to drive down his media fees (again), arguing that he has relocated staff to cheaper areas so why should he be supporting our office in central London when many of the media buying department could work just as effectively elsewhere. What should my argument back be?

A: The more you get into detail, the weaker you'll seem. You need not so much an argument as a bravura restatement of your business principles.

You believe in attracting, training and retaining the best people. You believe in attracting, serving and retaining the best clients. You believe that both staff and clients, like all human beings, appreciate and benefit from intangible factors: a sense of style and a pride in belonging. You see your company not as a makeshift collection of necessary bits, to be located wherever rents are lowest, but as a totality. Your unshakeable conviction is that only such a company can delight in serving its clients to the ultimate and beyond.

If all this is what you believe (and at least in part achieve), look your client firmly in the eyes and say so; neither aggressively nor defensively. And if it's not what you believe, call your estate agent immediately.

Q: An agency CEO writes: Our brilliant but wayward planning director keeps writing strange and occasionally abusive Tweets about both me and the agency. Should I act like the FA with a naughty footballer and order him to desist or enjoy the online notoriety?

A: If you haven't already done so, ask your brilliant planning director first to define your agency's desired brand position - and then to draw up all the resultant communications guidelines. As a brilliant planning director, he'll know that, for a brand to be strong and coherent, all communications touchpoints (in your case, with the marketing community and the press) must be in harmony; must contribute to the identified desired personality; must under no circumstances conflict with or contradict each other. Ask him, given the great and growing importance of social media, not to confine his guidelines to traditional media.

If he's half as good as you think he is, that's all you should have to do.

Q: While it is pleasing that, according to the IPA Census, the industry is representative of the gender division and ethnic make-up of the wider population, are you worried that only just over 5 per cent of people in the industry are over 50?

A: No. Suits me just fine.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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