Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 July 2007 12:00AM

Q: My company has undergone two rounds of cost-cutting. I've just learned that a third one is around the corner. How do I keep up the morale of my team on a budget?

A: Remember Ernest Rutherford. About 100 years ago, he and a tiny team of scientists were doing their best to split the atom in a rented kitchenette in Cambridge. He told them: "We haven't any money so we've got to think." They did - and they did it. Money's the easy way to make people happy; easy and thoughtless. Agencies are supposed to be imaginative places, run by imaginative people. So try a bit of thinking.

Win something. The best agency people get high on any form of success. So call in all favours, nuzzle up to some favourite clients, announce a victory or two. There's always something you can win if you think creatively enough. Then throw a party. But make it a bottle party. A few spoilt brats will bitch and flounce but the rest will get it. Afterwards, they'll say it was the best agency party they can remember. Then think some more.

Q: My agency has been contacted by one of the agency matchmaking companies about pitching for the ad account of a political party. The party wants to know the political affiliations of all my staff before compiling a pitchlist. Is this reasonable?

A: The party in question is entitled to ask and you're equally entitled to decline. You have three good reasons for doing so. First, people's political opinions are their own affairs; that's why ballots are secret. Two, you never ask your people to work on accounts for which they have no sympathy so their political leanings are irrelevant. And three, any attempt you made to establish your staff's political affiliations would be doomed to end in hilarious failure.

I think you'd discover that more than half your staff belonged to the Monster Raving Loony Party and firmly believed in the imminent resurrection of Screaming Lord Sutch. And that five supported the Death, Dungeons & Taxes Party, seven UKIP, nine the Vote for Yourself Dream Ticket and one People of Horsham First.

People in agencies are very good at finding ways to tell their managements to mind their own bloody business.

On the other hand, if those were indeed the results of your agency questionnaire, you might like to pass them on without comment to this inquisitive matchmaker. If they had any sense, they'd recommend their client to appoint your agency sight unseen.

But they're probably looking for a group of earnest believers, devoid of wit or knowledge of real life. In which case, of course, you're well out of it.

Q: Marketers are said to be moulded into types by their employers. There are Proctoids, Mars men, Fordies and so on. Who are the most distinctive clients you've ever come across, and who are the most creative?

A: There aren't many left now, but the most distinctive clients I ever dealt with were those who were being clients for the very first time: the virgin clients. They'd never used research before and they'd never been near an advertising agency before and they were nerve-rackingly innocent.

Established, world-weary clients use jargon as shamelessly as their agency counterparts. Their fluency in marketing-speak serves as evidence of their long experience in the trenches, the time-worn phrases paraded as proudly as campaign medals. As a result, they seldom ask the important questions. And that's what virgin clients are very good at. "What would happen if we didn't?" "How do you know that?" "In that case, why doesn't everybody?" "I don't understand - could you please explain that?" "Why?" These are wonderful, deeply uncomfortable questions. They remind you just how much we get away with on a day-to-day basis, working with experienced clients who have long since stopped challenging the elemental things.

These days, happening by chance on an agency/client meeting, it's difficult for an outsider to be certain who comes from which camp: dress, language and fundamental assumptions are identical. There's no such confusion in a meeting with virgin clients. Virgin clients force you back to a refreshing clarity. And when you get something right, their childlike admiration and gratitude remind you just what a rewarding business ours can be.

If I were one of today's mega marketing directors, rather than poach a seven-year P&G veteran to manage a brand, I think I'd recruit a secondary school teacher or a trainee barrister. And then, after a few years when they'd become contaminated, send them back again.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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