Ask Bullmore: Do I have to like the people who work on my brand?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: Do I have to like the people who work on my brand?

Jeremy Bullmore, Campaign's agony uncle, answers your career dilemmas.

Dear Jeremy, How important is it that I like the people who work on my brand at the creative agency I work with? They keep asking me to spend the day with them in their office, but actually they make me feel uncomfortable.

The make-believe that the client/ agency relationship is a partnership survives more or less unquestioned. It suits both sides to leave the true nature of the relationship delicately unexplored – and there’s good reason for such reticence.

If players on both sides do their best to behave as if they are part of a proper partnership, despite knowing perfectly well that they aren’t, they’ll enjoy many of the considerable benefits that a proper partnership can deliver.

In fact, of course, the client/agency relationship is one of the most lopsided in the world of business. If an agency recommends a client to spend £25m on a certain campaign in certain media, and the campaign fails, the agency bears none of the loss.

It may, of course, be fired but it didn’t share the risk. If an agency’s campaign, beyond dispute, delivers an additional £10m to the client’s coffers, the agency is entitled to nothing. Entirely properly, only those who share the risks are entitled to share the rewards.

When an agency and a client part company, the agency may wait for years before finding a replacement. The client will have 50 reputable agencies banging on their door before nightfall. What all this means, of course, is that agency people feel far more responsible than client people for maintaining relationships.

They know they constantly need to prove their worth, certainly, but they also know the importance of being liked. So agency life breeds some of the most likeable people in the world; and what they like more than anything is to be liked back by their clients.

If you take that to mean that they’re calculating and insincere, you’re wrong. It’s real. As is their delight in being liked by clients and their disappointment when they’re not.

As a client, you rightly feel no compulsion to like the people who work on your brand and may feel it might impair your judgment if you did. I assume, however, that you appreciate what they do for you, otherwise you’d have swapped them for others a long time ago.

So while you don’t need to spend days with them in their office or take them all out to Sexy Fish, do please find time this Christmas to say thank you. (And try to sound as if you mean it.)

Should I book a holiday at the same time as my client is away or do I risk them setting us a big project just before they leave?

Here’s another timely reminder that the client/agency relationship is not a partnership. Try telling your client that you can’t start work on this new pan-European launch campaign until the middle of next month because you’ll all be on holiday. Or, rather, don’t.

Just wait for their decision – and whatever it is, cope with it.

I received this question in October 2014…

I’m a chief marketing officer with an unabashed passion for advertising. Is it ever wise to consider jumping the fence?

And this question in October 2016…

I’m a chief marketing officer at a major FMCG company who is fed up of getting overlooked for the general management jobs. What am I doing wrong?

Here’s the answer I should have given you two years ago. Be careful. Good advertising can accelerate your career more dramatically than any other service you can commission. But if you become known for being addicted to advertising, you’ll soon earn a reputation in the C-suite as being just a little bit too flaky… perhaps a little too shallow… for advancement to senior general management positions.

Perhaps you should have jumped the fence?

Any idea why we see fewer celebrities in the Christmas blockbuster ads these days?

Agencies have finally come to realise that it’s far more satisfying professionally, and far more valuable for the brand, not to rent an expensive celebrity for a few weeks but to create your own celebrity from scratch.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.