On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

What’s the trick to giving good feedback to work?

Never forget that you’re looking into someone’s pram.

I’m assuming that, by work, you mean advertising creative work in its earliest and most inchoate form. If its parents could have their wishes met, their offspring would be seen by no-one: until, that is, it’s launched intact on an admiring world. No pedantic planner to rabbit on about the need for a clear consumer benefit. No concerned account executive to question the necessity of the Ayers Rock location.

No junior client to dredge up a totally dissimilar idea once run by a competitor. No senior client to find it arguably incompatible with his division’s brand architecture model. If only it were possible, this beautiful newborn creature would spring from Mac to nationwide exposure without comment or interference. Just like that.

Unfortunately, this is an advertisement. It will cost the advertiser a lot of money to make and even more to expose. It will justify that expenditure only if it returns to the advertiser at least as much as it costs to make and run. And absolutely no-one knows whether or not it will.

And it’s not just the money: people’s jobs may be affected; even careers.

So the close scrutiny of new creative work, at multiple levels, is inevitable.

Precisely how that scrutiny is conducted can double or halve the value of the money at stake.

That’s why you should never forget that you’re looking into someone’s pram.

Every new idea, if it’s a new idea, will be unfamiliar. We all take time to adjust to the unfamiliar. So if your first reaction when presented with the newly born is not a positive one, be cautiously pleased. So far so good. To be instantly critical of a new idea is not only ignorant: it can be an act of infanticide. In the inevitable absence of proof, an idea’s chances of survival and progression depend in part on faith and hope and optimism: all fragile – and, when wounded, often impossible to resuscitate.

In any discussion about an idea with its originators, learn from the habit of many novelists: they make it a rule never to leave a day’s work when stuck. They pack it in for the day only when they know more or less what’s coming next and can look forward to writing it all down.

Try to do the same with your creative parents: never leave them with a dead end; never leave them back at the beginning. New ideas are rarely untouchably perfect; it follows that, for every element that may be questionable, there will be others open to extension and amplification. Leaving the creators looking forward to making their baby even more beautiful makes it a great deal easier for them to modify any unfortunate birthmarks.

Making ideas even better has exactly the same effect as making them less worse – but with no cruelty involved. So please remember: it’s their baby in that pram.

Is loyalty an overrated commodity in advertising?

It depends what you mean by loyalty. Loyalty as in loyalty cards isn’t loyalty; you’ve simply been bribed to spend more of your money in one place. You’re not loyal to South West Trains just because you’ve bought a season ticket; you probably feel manacled to South West Trains and long to escape its grip.

Proper loyalty means being unswervingly faithful in allegiance through choice rather than compulsion.

If you want to get pernickety about it, the loyal consumer doesn’t exist. There are millions who choose the familiar brand more often than not. But the solus user – the person whose repeat-purchase buying behaviour favours just the one brand from an available choice of 20 – doesn’t even figure on the charts.

There are, however, people in advertising who are unswervingly loyal to certain advertising agencies; and that’s one of the many soft and gooey reasons that make it an attractive trade to be in.

I have worked in agencies for more than 30 years but, as my own mortality is no longer in doubt, I find it hard to shake off the nagging feeling that perhaps I should have done more with my life. Can you help?

I’m afraid not.

‘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, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE

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