A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Andy Sellers writes: Hello Jeremy. I recently sent out a news release to publicise a promotional campaign my ad agency has produced for a national brewer.

In return, I received a call from a regional business magazine editor who thanked me for the release, and offered to run it in his next issue if I could persuade the client to send himself and his MD each a case of the fine ale in question. I replied, suggesting that he put his proposed editorial where the sun don't shine.

Being an advertising agency, not a PR agency, we have little direct contact with editorial departments, and I appreciate that it has always been the case that some publishers might press for advertising support in order to run editorial. But in my 35 years in the ad business, I have never before come across a suggestion of this kind.

Am I being holier than thou? Was I being naive and did I act too hastily? Is this how editors work nowadays? What would you have done in the circumstances?

A: Thanks, Andy. You probably know the celebrated epigram coined a long time ago by that unlikely civil servant, Humbert Wolfe:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

(Thank God) the British journalist.

But, seeing what the man will do

Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

If Wolfe was right, your experience is no evidence of a recent calamitous decline in journalistic standards but it's still grisly; you're certainly not being holier than thou. What's disturbing is that you should wonder even for a moment whether you are being. "Come on, Andy," those inner voices may have whispered. "Where's your sense of perspective? Don't be so po-faced. What's a few bottles of beer among friends?" But you were absolutely right to ignore them.

Let me be po-faced, too. We're all in trouble the moment it becomes fashionable to shrug off trivial corruption on the grounds that this is how things are done these days; in fact, it is the triviality that makes it so insidious.

Enough of the heavy stuff, however. The best way to counter this kind of corrosion is usually a combination of wit and exposure.

You ask what I would have done. I'd probably have done exactly what you did; it's hard to be spontaneously inventive on the end of a phone. But had we had a bit more time to think, there might have been a more entertaining response.

When this editor first called with his slimy proposal, suppose you'd simply said that you'd call him back. And when you called him back, you'd said that you'd put his proposal to your client - and although he wasn't dismissing the deal out of hand, he couldn't agree to it without first seeing it not only in writing but also on the publication's letterhead.

At this, the editor could have responded in three ways. "You mean to say he doesn't trust me?" To which you reply: "Exactly so." Or he sees exactly what you're up to and rapidly withdraws the offer. Or, blinded by cupidity, he complies with the demand and confirms his offer in writing. And at that point, you've got him by the goolies.

Call the editor back and say that you found his letter so interesting that you have forwarded copies to the PPA, Media Guardian and Private Eye - and also posted it on Facebook.

Whether you actually do or not, I'd leave to you. Either way, you'll make the bugger squirm. But, concerned as you rightly are with morality, you might think it improper to claim to have done something when in all truth you hadn't ...

Q: Our client lives in the stone age and doesn't get the importance of social media; any persuasion falls on deaf ears. Any advice?

A: All clients have competitors.

Monitor your client's competitors extremely closely. Are the ones using social media surging ahead? If so, that should spur your stone-age client into action. If they're not, you should entertain the outlandish possibility that your stone-age client is wiser than you are.

Q: I've been reviewing showreels as part of the process of hiring a new agency, one of which is a start-up. The same ads are appearing on more than two reels. Surely this cannot be right. I can understand how they might appear on two, but three seems a bit too much. Do I just have to accept that every successful ad has many fathers, or should I challenge them on it?

A: Just ask each agency what they'd do differently if they were making the ad again. The true author will know immediately. The others will look bemused.

- "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.

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