A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Should I leave my agency after losing an account?

I only joined my agency to work on one account, which we have now lost. Should I leave?

The decision may not be yours, of course.

One of the most despicable acts of which agencies are capable is to lure an able executive away from a comfortable berth with a big cheque and the promise of taking charge of a high-profile account; while somehow neglecting to mention that the high-profile account has been making its dissatisfaction known for rather more than a year and has already spat out three experienced account directors. 

The seeds of most client departures are sown many months before the axe finally falls. You should have sniffed around before you signed: a couple of evenings spent in the recruiting agency’s pub can supply inexpensive insurance against unpleasant surprises. If this was such a desirable job, you might have wondered, why were they not promoting from within? 

The final injustice of such a story is this: everybody knows that the account was lost six months before your arrival. Everybody knows that you did everything in the account director’s CPR handbook to restore it to health. Yet the client, very publicly, fired you; and the unsweet smell of failure attaches itself not so much to the agency as to you. 

If this is what’s happened to you, you may very well wonder whether this is the kind of agency you would want to stay with. And don’t spend too long wondering, because your morally bankrupt agency will be keen to identify a scapegoat. 

So place yourself in the hands of a reputable headhunter – and write yourself a memo to self.

In future, always ask: why are they so keen to hire me? (I can’t be that good.) 

Never again work on only one account.

Is client procurement becoming too strong to the detriment of agency/brand relationships?
Yes. But I’m an optimist. It’s missing the point to demonise procurement people. They’re simply doing what they’re trained and paid to do: to see that the buying power of their organisations is used most efficiently. And that means paying the least for what you need – as long as there’s no loss of quality.  The first half of that objective is relatively simple to assess: it’s got reassuring numbers attached to it. Forty-five is less than 50. Agreed? It’s the second half that presents the problems. 

What’s being bought? Something called marketing communications. Are they a cost or an investment? No-one seems to know. If an investment, what’s their return? Hard to say. So in the absence of knowledge, or instruction from above, procurement people entirely reasonably assume that less expenditure on marketing communications represents a saving; stands to reason, doesn’t it? And that’s what they’re paid to deliver.

Then, how to choose between potential providers of marketing communications? Faced with a choice between five advertising agencies, all with respectable histories and impressive catalogues of work for other clients, why shouldn’t the one that prices itself most modestly be awarded the contract? It’s fair and it’s logical and, anyway, what’s the alternative?

There won’t be an alternative until two things happen. First, those in charge of procurement people must first take the trouble to equip themselves with the formidable body of available evidence that demonstrates, without any shadow of doubt, the contribution that marketing communications can make to the market success and profitability of companies. It’s all there, though not in one piece. And then they must use that information as part of their future brief to their procurement departments. It won’t be a question of overriding procurement; just giving them the information that will help them do their jobs better. 

It’s bound to happen; and that’s why I’m an optimist.

For a while, marketing food as ‘natural’ was all the rage. Now I hear natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. How can I make sure I’m marketing based on truth and avoiding the passing trends?
Natural has never meant healthy. Belladonna is natural; and so is the autumn skullcap – as natural a mushroom as you could wish for. If natural means anything, it means unprocessed; but if there’s one thing you can be sure about processed foods, it’s that they’re very unlikely to kill you.