On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, last year my board forced me to go to my ad agency and insist that they accept a 30 per cent reduction in their fees.

They moaned, of course, but have continued to deliver a very good service. As it turned out, we had quite a good recession and the board has now actually increased my marketing budget. Should I increase my agency's fees back to where they were or spend the extra budget on more advertising?

A: When asked by the client chief executive to assess the agency, the marketing director responds:

- Their fees were the lowest on offer in my most recent review.

- Their work is always on strategy.

- Their work is always delivered on time.

All of this is true. But what the marketing director doesn't say is:

- I absolutely love going into that agency.

When asked by the agency financial director to assess the client, the account director responds:

- This account is very profitable.

- This account presents us with the opportunity to win creative awards.

- This account could lead to the acquisition of other accounts.

All of this is true. But what the account director doesn't say is:

- This account is an absolute bloody joy to work on.

As most agencies and thoughtful clients will confirm, the most fruitful client/agency relationships defy any form of conventional analysis. That which can be measured is duly measured. That which cannot be measured is almost entirely ignored. Words like "love" and "joy" are not words that sit happily on an annual assessment form. Since you can't put a number on them, they clearly have no commercial value.

But you know perfectly well, even if your financial director does not, that when client and agency are always delighted to see each other, can always trust each other with the truth, and at times seem in danger of becoming besotted with each other, then your company will get another ten pence-worth of value from every advertising pound they spend.

Because it sounds soppy - and because you're afraid of being accused of going native - you've kept this priceless knowledge to yourself.

And that's a pity. You're trusted by your company to make hugely important subjective judgments about your advertising. You should also be trusted to make subjective judgments about those who conjure that advertising up.

You now have a wonderful opportunity to achieve both a better understanding by your board and the eternal devotion of your agency. Tell your board that, despite that 30 per cent cut in their fees, the agency never cut their commitment. Some part of your company's survival is due to them.

You therefore ask for the board's formal agreement to restore some part of the agency's income.

And when the financial director asks by how much, as a result, you can expect the agency's performance to improve, don't hesitate: "Approximately 16.7 per cent."

Q: Nick Myers writes: Someone I know, but don't rate highly, has asked me to write a LinkedIn recommendation for their profile page. If I write a recommendation, people might think I've got poor judgment. But, if I ignore the request, they might take it as a signal I think they're rubbish. What should I do?

A: The moment you start, you'll never know how to finish. So don't start. Same with Facebook: if you're nobody's friend, you can't be anyone's enemy either. Better to be thought uncool than unkind.

Q: Dear Jeremy, at great expense my agency has produced a new ad campaign for my brand based around a football theme. Now I see that my ad is rather indistinguishable from every other football-themed ad out there. Is it ever a good idea to join the advertising scrum around these sorts of major events?

A: The advertising business prides itself on being a young person's business. "85 per cent of our people are 23 or under," agencies proudly claim. This is very silly. What it means is that, far from having learnt from past mistakes, they've still got all their mistakes ahead of them. If I were a client, I wouldn't want to pay for them. You are.

When something like Christmas or the World Cup is looming up, you need to do three things. First, remember that everybody else also knows that it's looming up.

Second, imagine what everybody else will be doing about it. Third, do something wittily different.

Everyone over 40 knows this.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

Topics