On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Our head of art insisted on re-proofing our work for entry to awards - things like making headlines bigger, body copy shorter, logos smaller, and deleting legal flyshit. My art director went along with it, but I'm worried in case we win an award and the clients spot the difference - will they?

A: So everything's OK as long as you're not found out, is that it? Well, why not have another little think. The fact that you enter awards means you approve of them.

Awards at their best honour those who manage to do remarkable things against often formidable odds.

Those odds include hesitant clients, legal requirements and hard commercial necessity.

People who take all that in their stride and still produce outstanding work deserve all the gongs going. By allowing your head of art to cheat, you not only deny yourself any pleasure should you win but also deny the most honourable members of our trade the recognition they've painstakingly earned.

I very much hope that your clients do spot the difference; and that shame, ignominy and severe loss of business swiftly follow.

Q: Our agency is very hot on social media and we also employ a lot of freelancers so when I go for a walk about the office I see lots of people with headphones on staring at Facebook, LinkedIn and other similar websites. How do I know whether or not they're doing any work?

A: You don't. And what's more, it doesn't matter.

The glorious Bernard Gutteridge, now long dead and sadly forgotten, preceded the age of the desktop and the laptop. He would sit behind his desk, glasses on the tip of his nose, lined yellow copy pad unmarked before him, for hours at a time; or at least until the pub opened. Were anyone silly enough to ask him what he was doing, he'd reply entirely affably: "I'm thinking what to put."

The best work that an agency does - the work that can make agencies great, client companies rich and turn marketing directors into celebrity figures - takes no time at all to produce.

Other "creative businesses" are astounded by the miniscule volume of work that even a large agency turns out in the course of a year. A single newspaper may write and publish several hundred thousand words a day, while a busy agency may struggle to write and publish a couple of hundred pages of ads a year. A smallish independent television company may produce 30 hours of programme material a year, while even a big agency's yearly television output will be measured in minutes.

So if the volume of an agency's output is so tiny - and if it takes no time at all to produce - what does an agency do all day? (This is a question that has baffled clients for getting on for 200 years.)

Bernard had the answer. Thinking what to put is what the best agencies do all day.

When they've thought what to put, actually putting it is a doddle. It takes a little under three seconds to write: "Just do it."

When a copywriter friend was asked by a time-and-motion man with a clipboard how long it took to write a 30-second commercial, Bill didn't hesitate: "Two hours and 23 minutes." The man with the clipboard nodded, made a note and moved on. I expect those increasingly ludicrous agency remuneration contracts are still in part based on this meaningless metric.

You shouldn't care one jot or tittle if the workers you observe are working or not.

There is absolutely no correlation between how long an agency person works and the value of that person's contribution. You're paid to inspire and reward quality; and that requires judgment, not a stopwatch.

Q: What's your favourite cliche or piece of advertising and marketing jargon?

A: I still quite like "reputational deficiency". Stephen King and I invented it about 30 years ago. It reassures potential clients that there's absolutely nothing wrong with their brand that a bit of decent advertising can't put right. I know it's shameful but it's surprisingly often true.

Q: Recently, the Institute of Sales Promotion renamed itself as the Institute of Promotional Marketing, which made me wonder. Is the latter tautological when the former was not?

A: If it isn't tautological, then it's decidedly cheeky. Its clear inference is that there's a lot of marketing out there that's not in the least promotional. And while I agree, that's not very comradely, is it?

"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