On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Does where an agency bases its headquarters matter?

Yes. Because agencies have been instructive examples of brands since long before an understanding of brands became as centre stage as it is today. As with any brand, an agency’s reputation is built from any number of different cues; here are a few of them.

Country of origin; name and standing of its founder(s); known size; best-known clients/work; creative ability as measured by creative awards; strategic ability as measured by effectiveness awards; personal reputations of leading members of current staff; new-business record; type of business attracted; platform and publication presence; location of main office.

For 50 years, J Walter Thompson London worked from 40 Berkeley Square. During that time, several generations of management came and went, and the work and the client list changed: yet the reputation barely wavered. The address wasn’t the only constant but, being a building, it was the most obvious one.

You could see it, touch it, drive past it, visit it, hope to join it. Every taxi driver knew it.

Berkeley Square was so potent a symbol, so redolent of effortless superiority (both professional and social) and so synonymous with the agency that it provoked a rival agency, in mischievous mood, to rent space at the top of the building that dominates the south side of the square. I don’t think they used the premises much for everyday work but it meant that they could display "Saatchi & Saatchi", eight storeys high, in ten-foot letters, clearly visible to staff and clients visiting No40. It was an action totally in keeping with Saatchis’ brand positioning: the brash, subversive, irreverent, inventive new kid on the block blowing a 24/7 raspberry at the sedate inhabitants positioned just the other side of Annabel’s.

Postcodes can certainly add or subtract from an agency’s reputation; but, wonderfully, if an agency is successful enough, it can help make an unfashionable district fashionable. Fifty years ago, the local offshoot of an important American agency, feeling unloved and out of it in W2, made a formal request to the local council that the area be rebranded as the New West End. The council said no. Then along came Boase Massimi Pollitt – and nobody in advertising ever mocked Paddington again.

Fifteen years ago, it seemed as if Canary Wharf would be the next hotshop hot spot (and the initial rents were alluring). It didn’t turn out that way. Even Soho didn’t last very long.

Important though location is, it will never be all-important. A shoddy agency in Shoreditch will still be a shoddy agency. But for a start-up, it’s different. In the absence of history, a reel, silverware and a new-business record, the founders’ reputations and the chosen location are just about the only brand clues available. Unit 37b, Hanger Lane Business Park might prove a bit of a challenge even for a latter-day BMP.

When’s the best time to ask for a raise?

When you’ve personally masterminded the richest and most prestigious new-business win of the past ten years and been offered 25 per cent more and a healthy stake by an admired competitor. At any other time, it can be risky.

My agency has invited me to dinner in Venice as a Christmas treat, with an overnight stay in a five-star hotel to boot. Is it legal/advisable to accept?

If your company had any sense, it would have a standards and ethics manual or equivalent that spelt out the maximum value of any gift from a supplier you were permitted to accept. It’s unlikely that dinner in Venice would qualify. On the other hand, I hear you cry, such an occasion would greatly strengthen your relationship with the agency – which would in future spare no effort to produce groundbreaking, profit-boosting creative work, greatly to your company’s benefit. This is a powerful argument and one that I find very persuasive.

So I suggest you put it to your chief executive – with the rider that, in order not to fall foul of the standards and ethics guide, the cost of the trip be carried not by your agency but by your own company. Your CEO’s response should greatly simplify your decision-making process.

‘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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