A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How do I build brand resilience?

Personal and brand resilience have much in common.

Rachel Eyre, head of marketing propositions at Sainsbury’s, writes: What does resilience mean to you, and can it be built?

I’m taking resilience to mean the ability to withstand, and then recover from, a serious setback; in either fortune or reputation or both. I hope that’s what you had in mind. I’m not sure whether you’re interested in personal resilience or brand resilience but, as they have much in common, perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Let’s take personal first. Someone you know features in a seedy, well-publicised court case. How you (and other friends) respond depends almost entirely on what you thought you knew about this character before the alleged incident took place. You either say: "Ha! I always knew that Jason had it coming." Or you say: "That doesn’t sound a bit like Jason to me. Someone must have stitched him up."

Jason’s ability to bounce back – or, more probably, clamber back – will in large part be determined by his actions, and inactions, stretching back for years. Just one unsavoury episode, remembered from eight years earlier, will make Jason’s redemption a great deal more difficult – and even then, probably only partial.

Much the same is true for brands. It’s why brand reputation has to be built and monitored so obsessively. It’s why anyone who favours the regular, surreptitious trimming of the principal ingredient, or the mean-spirited interpretation of the small print when dealing with unhappy customers, should be publicly named and shamed within the organisation. Because, while neither of these tawdry little activities will do immediate, measurable harm to the brand, every one of them will invisibly erode the brand’s foundations; will lessen its chances of being given the benefit of any doubt; will greatly weaken its future capacity for resilience.

One of the greatest-ever involuntary tests of brand resilience is of course being conducted as we speak. The early signs, I believe, are that Volkswagen may get away with it. The financial costs are inescapable and may yet bury it; but it seems that Volkswagen’s brand resilience, built immaculately and consistently over more than 60 years, may – just – rescue it. Had the emissions scandal been the second to hit it, Volkswagen – like Jason – would have been dead in the water.

Dear Jeremy, I’ve just been promoted to a big job so have inherited several agency relationships. Should I be looking to pick up where my predecessor left off, at least initially, or making my mark from the off? 

The last thing you need to be concerned about is making your mark. The moment your agencies were informed of your promotion, your mark was made. All agencies know that they’re at their most vulnerable on the appointment of a new senior client and this can prompt them to lose their senses. They’ll either be all over you or be withdrawn and watchful.

So my best advice to you is to hit the ground listening. Don’t expect your first meeting with your agencies to be particularly helpful or revealing; its main value will be to allow you, a few days later, to have a second meeting. 

There are one or two things that can most effectively be done at a moment of change, so don’t waste it. Ask your agencies, for example, if they’ve always wanted to do something on your business but have been dissuaded from doing it. Or have been persuaded to do things they felt to be wrong. It’s a brief, precious, penalty-free time for truths to be told. After the third meeting, you’ll all be in it together.

Be neither effusively agreeable nor ambiguously intimidating. Agree a date in six months’ time when you can openly review the relationship. Until then, just get on with things. 

Dear Jeremy, Apparently anyone can come up with a great creative idea these days, and creative agencies are no longer special. Is this really true?

It’s always been possible for anyone to come up with a great creative idea. But to maintain their supremacy, creative agencies need to be able to do more. They need to be able to recognise a great creative idea when they see one; they need to know why it’s a great creative idea; and they need to be able to come up with another great creative idea when the first three are turned down. That’s what will keep them special. 

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP