THE BOOK OF LISTS: The 14 Best nuggets by adland's greatest philosopher

campaignlive.co.uk, Tuesday, 16 December 2003 12:00AM

More choice entries from Jeremy Bullmore's weekly column in Campaign. Last year we picked 12 entries as there were many more than ten pearls from the total. This year, he's got even better, so we've squeezed in 14.

1. I am the chief executive of a small advertiser and I'm increasingly confused by my ad agency. When I appointed it it used to just make ads. Now it is making TV programmes, publishing music and designing clothes. Is this normal, or should I find myself a nice traditional agency that sticks to its chosen craft?

Has it yet occurred to you that you may not need advertising at all? Put this thought to your versatile if confusing agency: tell them you want next year's creative recommendations to remain within budget while excluding all conventional media advertising. That way, you'll soon find out whether any of their newly trumpeted skills hold any value for you. It will, in any event, be a mind-stretching exercise.

2. I have to scrap the company car policy. I know it's going to cause an absolute stink. What is it about admen and their cars?

Oh, you know ... it's this desperate search for identity that plagues all people with corrosive insecurity. Am I a Porsche or just an Austin Metro?

Think Foxtons: but instead of Mini Coopers allow all your senior staff to drive Smart cars - painted in your corporate colours, naturally, and carrying a creative slogan. No congestion charges and, as promotional items, probably tax allowable as well. You will soon be the most talked-about agency in town.

3. My creative agency has just offered me a wonderful trip, with its principals and a range of other guests, for a long weekend in the south of France. Is this just plain bribery?

Or are potentially improved relations with the people working on my advertising account a true justification?

One of my more boring reiterations is that all motives are mixed. What, do you suppose, lies behind this generous invitation? Your agency may be unusually philanthropic and be inordinately fond of you - but they will still need to justify this level of expenditure with some expectation of return.

Improved relations would certainly help both them and you (and therefore your company). For you to feel beholden to them, however, would be of great value to them but bring nothing but grief for you. So this is your test.

Imagine showing your colleagues the photographs on your return: the lunch table set under the olive trees and the agency's business development director in her bikini. Then imagine defending your agency's newest commercial against your colleagues' criticism. Then imagine their raised eyebrows and knowing looks.

If you can imagine all this with impunity, then by all means go.

4. I'm an agency chief executive and am frustrated with my creative director. He seems to spend most of his time attending awards judging and pontificating about high creative standards yet our own department hasn't won an award for years nor do our creative standards seem that much higher than those of other agencies. Is he full of crap?

Yes.

5. Are creative directors too old?

Too old for what?

6. Why do production companies think everyone needs to be sustained by enormous bicep-shaped sausage sandwiches when standing around all day on an ad shoot?

Within minutes of the arrival of independent television in 1955, commercial production companies realised that clients and their advertising agencies became mindless and mesmerised when confronted with the glamour of making movies.

For well over a hundred years, clients and their agency equivalents were perfectly happy to leave printers, blockmakers and compositors to get on with their work in peace and solitude. Nobody put on trainers and shades and jetted off to Leeds for five days to oversee the production of their latest 48-sheet poster. But in 1955, a new conscientiousness was born. From marketing directors to trainee copywriters, attendance at the shoot became a central part of the job description.

Commercials directors may bitterly complain; some of them sincerely.

But the production houses for whom they work delight in this universal display of responsibility: more expenditure on which to apply the mark-up; fewer recriminations at the first showing.

So every artifice is employed to maintain the illusion that this entirely functionless audience is importantly engaged in the making of real movies.

In this deception, location services are key; and within location services, the bacon roll and the sausage sandwich are the undisputed stars. Their very size and indigestibility provide the only evidence we need: it's a rugged world out here and dirty work - but someone's got to do it.

7. Boymeetsgirl. Nonsense or inspirational as an agency name?

I'll tell you in seven years' time. People continue to believe that names imbue objects with meaning. They don't. Objects imbue names with meaning.

8. I am a client with a multimillion-pound budget burning a hole in my pocket. I'm nearing the end of my pitch and I want to appoint agency x. When visiting the agency recently on a Friday night, I distinctly heard one of the late-night workers crow that he had been given £100 cash to stay an extra hour and "look busy". How should I let the agency know I know? And should they still get the business?

I can tell you've never worked in an advertising agency.

If the world were a sane and adult place, advertising agencies would strive to do good work; would market themselves with thoughtful published pieces on cognitive dissonance and low involvement processing; and would in time be appointed by new clients on the basis of their work for others, their strength in depth and the congeniality of their people.

Since the short but hectic life of Allen Brady & Marsh, however, gimmickry has become a given in the headless pursuit of new business. The most sober and institutionalised of agencies now presents its leave-behinds in the form of the Bayeux Tapestry and dresses its bewildered receptionists as Land Girls.

Clients, naturally, are unmoved by such antics. We know this because they say so. Nevertheless, they continue to employ the agencies that indulge in them.

The agency you favour was guilty of nothing more serious than wanting your business so much that they were determined to leave nothing to chance.

By all means let them know you saw through their feeble little ruse - but of course they should still get your business.

9. What's the form on blokes wearing shorts around the office? We've long tolerated it among the creative types. The recent sweltering conditions have encouraged the suits to follow suit. Is this taking "dressing down" too far?

You show unmistakable signs of old-fogeyism. As recently as 1960, lady copywriters in the New York office of the J. Walter Thompson company were all expected to wear hats. I'm afraid I don't know what account handlers will be wearing in 43 years' time but I expect it will be cooler by then.

10. I founded one of the coolest agencies of the 90s but I'm about to take a big job in a famously dull network. I'm going to be paid squillions. How can I show everybody that I haven't sold my soul?

Why not suggest they include your own name over the door?

11. I'm the director of a London hotshop with an outstanding creative reputation as well as a young and energetic workforce. Now I learn that new legislation could land me in an expensive lawsuit if I discriminate against old farts when I hire. What can I do?

I am, as you may know, an old fart myself - and have been for some considerable time. So my sympathies are not immediately with you. While noting the irony that you should turn to me for advice on this subject, I shall nonetheless resist the temptation to advise you catastrophically.

Let the following established facts guide your recruitment policy and the lawyers won't trouble you. Young people get older. People without talent never acquire it. Talented people stay talented. And the value of natural talent can be doubled by inspired leadership. Which is your job, I think? At least for the time being ...

12. You are obviously a man of good taste. Have you ever resorted to physical violence to get a point across?

I would resort to physical violence to get a point across only to make the point that resorting to physical violence might cow people into assent but will never get a point across. So far, that's never been a point I've needed to get across.

13. I'm an account director on a large piece of business. I've been asked by my agency to take responsibility for the new-business department. Do you think this is a good career move?

New-business departments, and new-business directors, are the craven creations of feckless chief executives. Agency people like to think of themselves as professionals: like a Queen's Counsel or a neurosurgeon, for example. Yet how would they feel if either of the above hired full-time touts, themselves entirely unqualified, to drum up clients?

You have been invited to take responsibility for new business. You might like to reply that, since the responsibility for new business can reside only with the chief executive, you would be more than happy to accept their invitation.

There is certainly much useful internal work to be done: identifying opportunities, scanning the pages of the more reliable trade papers, tracking the progress of itinerant marketing directors, bullying overworked planners to produce thoughtful pieces of value to clients.

But all external contact, and certainly all direct approaches, should be made by senior and respected working members of the agency.

You should do a bit of this as well as running your large piece of business; but don't let your CEO lumber you with the whole responsibility. That's his job, not yours.

14. I'm a creative services procurement manager and am negotiating fees with an agency that keeps telling me they're "about doing great ads". What exactly is a great ad?

Aha. A great ad is an ad that can multiply the value of a marketing budget by a factor of 750. It can energise both the workforce and the salesforce, galvanise the trade, vastly improve recruitment efficiency, propel the parent company into the FTSE 100 and earn its CEO a knighthood.

In these days of restricted marketing budgets, over-production and intense pressure on profit margins, your CEO will be more than usually interested in the acquisition of a great ad. As a procurement manager, you will therefore go to extreme lengths not to demotivate your agency by haggling over the price of paperclips.

Perhaps the only other thing you need to know about a great ad is that it can be identified with certainty only after it has been running for 18 months.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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