A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: how do I tell my client's boss she's a nightmare?

How do I tell my client's boss that she is a nightmare to deal with?

Thankfully, the business is reviewing and we won’t be repitching because of her. Is it morally right for me to tell someone about her?
I’m not sure that morals come into it. Your client has put the business up for review and, since you’ve chosen not to repitch, you’ll be rid of her in no time. So why would you want to tell her boss that she’s a nightmare to deal with? 

Unless her boss already has serious doubts about her (which seems unlikely, since he must have agreed to her calling an agency review), his immediate instinct will be to defend and protect. He’ll dismiss your criticism as the mean-spirited bitching of a bad loser – which will confirm him in his belief that your client was entirely justified in putting you on notice in the first place. That’s certainly what it will look like (not least because it probably is).

But I expect you’d claim your motives were nobler? Perhaps you want her boss to know that your client is a disastrous representative of her company and will never get the best out of any agency? Perhaps you want to save her next agency from the sort of nightmares that you experienced? Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that to keep your knowledge of your client to yourself would be morally wrong?

Perhaps. But you haven’t convinced me.

There’s one thing you could do, however. You could write to your client’s boss and say how sorry you are that the relationship is coming to an end. Should he think there might be any value in having a brief meeting to establish where it went wrong, you’d be more than happy to attend.

You’ll get one of four responses. He’ll not reply; he’ll say no to a meeting; he’ll say yes to a meeting that includes your nightmare client; or he’ll say yes to a meeting between just the two of you. Any one of these answers will tell you all you need to know without having had to ask. And all with a clear conscience.

Can the industry move away from being paid by time spent rather than value created for a client? Should it try to?
I’ve got three examination questions for you; but first, the background.

The Minnesota Valley Canning Company started in business in 1903. In 1925, it discovered a new variety of supersized pea that it called Green Giant. In 1928, it adopted a caveman symbol called the Green Giant. In 1935, Leo Burnett made him more friendly, dressed him in leaves and called him Jolly. The Jolly Green Giant has been in constant use ever since. In 1950, the company changed its name to Green Giant. In 1979, it merged with Pillsbury. In 2001, it was acquired by General Mills. And last year, B&G Foods bought the Green Giant business for $765 million. 

Now, please answer these three questions – in each case, with a numeral.

1. Given that the company already used a green giant as a company icon, what was the immediate value in dollars of Leo Burnett’s contribution in 1935?

2. Since 1935, what has been the cumulative value in dollars to the company of the Jolly Green Giant brand symbol?

3. What proportion of that value can be credited to Leo Burnett? 

How did you do? No better, I suspect, than all those other thoughtful people who’ve been trying to think of a sane way of paying advertising agencies since 1864.

It would be truly wonderful if the value of an advertising idea could be established, to the satisfaction of all parties, at any point in its life. Ideally, of course, its value would be calculated at birth so that an agency could say to The Minnesota Valley Canning Company: "This idea has not only researched extremely well but has been independently verified to be worth $5,378,451 over the course of the next 80 years. Be so kind as to sign below." 

It is, of course, beyond ridiculous that the price of a marketing idea with the potential to transform the fortunes of a major company should be calculated on the basis of a few creatively completed timesheets. But a price requires a number. And a number can be arrived at only by adding up other numbers. And one of the few numbers available for adding up is hours. 

Another is days of usage. If that had applied, The Green Giant Company would today owe Leo Burnett 30,000 daily royalties.