Close-Up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 July 2004 12:00AM

Q: After much heart searching we've decided to review our account. It's been a difficult decision because we're our agency's biggest client by far and our defection could easily put it out of business. Its people have served us well for several years. Is there anything we can do to soften the blow? A: I wish I knew why you've made this decision. A mutually trusting, bedded-down agency relationship is precious; it brings with it huge working and financial advantages not always fully grasped by even the most sensitive of procurement officers.

This agency has served you well for several years, so what's up? You give no hint of having been rolled over - so it can't be a mandate from the desk of your Global Corporate Communications & Brand Knowledge Integrator.

So maybe you've hired a new marketing director who's been brilliantly schmoozed by an eighth-wave start-up? Convinced yourself that you need an agency with offices in Mandalay and Reykjavik? Come to believe that pulling up a healthy hollyhock and shaking its roots is an excellent way of encouraging future growth? Long to have someone new to lunch with?

I do hope it's a little more respectable than any of these time-honoured excuses for succumbing to the seven-year itch.

So let's accept that you've made this decision for the most impeccable of reasons. If that's the case, to call it a defection is too a harsh on yourself. To defect is consciously to abandon a duty or an allegiance.

You have no duty towards your agency; only to your company. It is thoughtful of you, however, (and I hope not driven entirely by your compulsion to be loved) to want to soften the blow; so what you should do is this:

As soon as the new agency is appointed, you should host (and pay for) a party on the old agency's turf. Invite the entire staff and every marketing director and CEO you've ever met. Invite the trade press, too: they'll come; this is something new. Invite no-one from your new agency. In your skillfully crafted speech, praise your former agency unreservedly for the quality of its work and people and recommend them wholeheartedly to your marketing colleagues.

It's true, of course, that the more convincingly you make this case, the more insane your own decision will look: enough, perhaps, to make you stop and think again?

Q: Marketing directors have begun to spring up in agencies. M&C Saatchi has one, and so does Leo Burnett. Is this a desperate attempt to ingratiate agencies by matching job titles with those of their client prospects or a genuine point of difference?

A: Let us shed tears for the sad word marketing. It was once a noble word: describing a venture, from product design to after-sales service, driven by an obsession with the ultimate consumer. Today, it's just another euphemism for getting rid of stuff.

No longer does marketing have any influence on what is made; on how call centres behave; on how head office writes letters. It is marketing's unquestioning task to shift more goods - by whatever means.

Marketing no longer means marketing.

So do not be tempted to believe that an agency marketing director has any serious influence on the agency's methodology, recruitment policy, training or creative output. An agency marketing director's unquestioning task is to get more business - by whatever means.

That's why they were once called new-business directors.

The adoption by agencies of the word marketing can do nothing but speed the word's precipitous descent. Clients are already beginning to look for a euphemism for the euphemism. Some are even trying to re-establish marketing as the discipline it was meant to be. I wonder what they'll call it?

- Jeremy Bullmore is a director of WPP. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP. "Ask Jeremy", a collection of his Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone: (020) 8267 4683.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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