Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

By Jeremy Bullmore, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 09 October 2009 12:00AM

Q: Our agency doesn't currently have its own blog. Should we? It seems to me that unless you're going to do it well, then don't do it at all - and if you are doing it well, then it pretty much means that you have far too much time on your hands. Any thoughts?

A: Eighteen months ago, you were wondering nervously whether or not your agency should have a Second Life. You didn't actually decide not to - you just somehow never quite got around to doing it. And then, with reassuring suddenness, all the buzz about Second Life seemed to evaporate and nobody now accuses you of not being kewl because you're not there and you're very glad you aren't and weren't.

And now you're wondering about a company blog and whether or not you can safely follow the same policy of dynamic apathy. The answer is probably not.

It didn't quite win Labour the 1970 General Election but their use of Yesterday's Men hurt the Conservatives badly. (The BBC later used it as the title of a documentary about the Labour Party - and that hurt Labour even more badly.) There are rhetorical tricks that, without much substance or logic, can consign political parties, companies and individuals to the dustbin of history. The killer comparison at the moment is analogue versus digital.

It took the arrival of digital to disinter the word analogue. Nobody admired that analogue watch or bought an analogue medium; hardly surprising, since the word simply meant something that was analogous or like something else. Today it's come to mean yesterday. Digital used to mean anything to do with fingers or toes. Today it's come to mean tomorrow.

Q: Agencies hate being described as traditional; traditional's an analogue word. But how else do you describe agencies that were doing excellent work 75 years before Tim Berners-Lee was born?

A: I quite understand your concerns about blogging. A cursory skim through the 97 million existing blogs confirms them. Most are inconsequential, illiterate and derelict. But your clients will want to know what you think about blogs so you'd better know what you're talking about. And if, entirely reasonably, you're going to be sceptical about blogs, you'd better have first-hand experience of what you're sceptical about. Finally, you'd better do it well.

I've no idea what you'll find to say; but just make sure you say it with style. Being forced to think what to say may help you define your own company with rather more precision. Don't be tempted to sub-contract: it will come across as phoney as a ghost-written book. And, yes: you'll curse the burden of it all. But just remember that if there's one thing that shrieks analogue even more loudly than a blogless agency, it's an agency blog that's got broken windows and grass growing through its cracked foundations.

Q: It's clearly time to be thinking about that Christmas party. We've had a pretty great year so far, but with the economic climate as it is, we want to make it as cost-efficient, but celebratory, as possible. From your experience, how can we throw a memorable and original bash?

A: The Christmas parties I remember were hugely enjoyable but quite structured. Management would appoint a committee; a posh West End venue would be hired; formal dress would be expected; there would be speeches - with one from the chairman and one from a member of the staff thanking the management for their magnanimity in hosting the party; and then there would be dancing (once described by our worldwide president as "overly lascivious"). Despite the dancing, which was, in fact, surprisingly decorous, the whole affair, looking back, was undoubtedly analogue.

If your agency's any good, it should be stuffed with funny and inventive people who are perfectly capable of distinguishing between affection for the company and deference. So think open source and Wikipedia. Let it be known it's entirely up to them to make it happen. Don't even offer seed money; just say you'll match whatever they raise themselves. Impose no limitations, other than those of the law and elf 'n' safety.

After a day or two of frozen indecision, all sorts of ideas will begin to surface. Try not to get wind of them because they'll scare you witless. If you interfere at any stage, you'll set your agency back ten years.

Come the day, there'll be great bits and dreadful bits and most people will have a wonderful time and it won't have cost a fortune. If it's a spectacular success, management can subtly take the credit for having prompted it and if it's an unmitigated disaster - well, it wasn't you what did it, was it?

Pretty digital, eh?

- "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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