Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

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

Q: As a client should I wear a tie to my meetings with ad agencies?

A: Golly Moses but this is a tough one. Don't rush into anything. What do other clients do? Have you checked on the tie-wearing habits of the five marketing directors you most admire? Does your boss wear a tie to meetings?

Have you done focus groups?

I was heartened to learn that you employ multiple agencies. This enables you to test tie wearing versus non-tie wearing in the real world without committing yourself. Just wear a tie at meetings with Agency A but never at meetings with Agency B. Allow a full year. Compare deference levels and lunch invitations. Then alternate: Agency B, tie; Agency A, no tie.

But why am I telling you all this? I'm sure it comes instinctively.

Q: I have not been sent a questionnaire for Campaign's A List this year. Several of my colleagues have proudly filled theirs in and sent them off, and I was in last year. Is my career on an irreversible downward spiral and how will I be able to face my peer group when they realise I've been dropped?

A: Campaign readers love lists. They love league tables and ranks and scores. By applying a weighting to awards, it's possible to identify the 27th most creative person in the United Kingdom. Last year, she was the 19th most creative person. Oh, the shame of it.

What Campaign does so brilliantly is exploit their readers' myopic egocentricity. Fascinated as we are by our own careers and reputations, we assume that the rest of our tiny universe will be just as fascinated. Which, of course, they are; but not, as it happens, by us. Self-centred wretches that they are, they are fascinated only by themselves.

Do you find it difficult to enter a full room, convinced everyone will be looking at you? Well, it's time you faced the sobering truth. Nobody is thinking about you. They are fully occupied thinking about themselves.

When this year's A List appears, you'll be tempted to raise the subject in conversation and then allude dismissively to all such meretricious lists. You hope, of course, that friends and enemies will infer that you declined to participate - but they won't. They'll say: "Oh wow. Simon's been left off the A List and can't stop going on about it."

So stop going on about it.

Q: Dear Jeremy, Now that creative directors are supposed to know as much about their clients' business as they are about what's going on in their own department, can one person really be expected to perform these two very different roles?

A: This is a very interesting question; so interesting, indeed, that it prompts me to issue a challenge to my readers. Please go back over the question above and see if you can work out why I find it interesting.

Got it? Give up? Either way, let me spell it out. The fascinating phrase is this: can one person really be expected to perform these two very different roles?

Why this easy assumption that an understanding of a client's business and an understanding of the creative process are fundamentally different job specs? In fact, of course, an ability to perform both these tasks is a neat definition of a creative director's job.

Creative departments do not exist to produce great ads. Creative departments exist to make clients more successful.

Unless great ads make clients more successful (or less unsuccessful) they are not great ads.

Somebody has to appreciate the client need; and then bring talent to bear on it. An appreciation of both client need and creative resource must co-exist in a single mind: that is what executive creative directors are paid for. If the client need is understood only by the suits and the planners, the creative solution will turn out to be the answer to a different question.

There used to be a main road in Ireland that just stopped. One hundred yards to the right, another one started. The two counties concerned had failed to confer. Every seasoned client is familiar with the agency equivalent. The planner delivers an excellent and intuitive interpretation of client needs and then stops; 100 yards to the right, the creative presentation starts. Like the two counties, the two halves of the presentation started from different places.

No single mind embraced them both. Dysfunction follows.

It's hard enough being a creative director. If you don't understand the problem for which you're seeking a solution, it's impossible.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone 020 8267 4683.

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

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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