On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: How many ad agencies does it take to make a great pitchlist? I'm at the long-listing stage and think four is plenty. But the intermediary we are using is advising six, including small, big, middleweight, start-up, creative and client service-led shops. We're not sure what type of agency to go for so maybe it is right to widen it to include every type. I'm just worried that the whole thing is going to take...

A: Let me invite you to entertain a revolutionary thought. Both you and your intermediary are making an elemental marketing mistake. Remember Theodore Levitt and his quarter-inch drills? Nobody wants quarter-inch drills, Levitt said: they want quarter-inch holes.

Yet here you are, best part of half-a-century later, trying to decide what type of agency you want; when what you should really be asking yourself is what kind of hole you want. It shouldn't matter one whit to you whether an agency is big, small, middleweight, start-up, creative or client service-led. The only thing that matters is whether an agency can give you what you want; including stuff you may not know you want.

How happy are your with your brand's current position? Is it already rich and confident or does it need a helpful nudge or two? Are new media important to it - for real business reasons rather than as a nervous nod to fashion? Do you plan line extensions or a relaunch? What do you see as your advertising's most important long-term role (and please don't say sales)?

You will notice that I haven't mentioned creativity. That's because it's both too obvious and too general.

Get all this, and more, thoroughly clear in your mind. It should be there already but it may need a bit of tidying up. Then tell your intermediary to forget about its irrelevant categories; you don't want to spend even ten minutes with any agency that cannot convincingly demonstrate its existing ability to deliver in all those defined areas. And you don't want to see more than four.

You might also sharpen up your intermediary's pre-selection rigour by telling it that, for every shortlisted agency that fails to meet those agreed criteria, you will subtract 25 per cent from your fee.

You're the boss.

Q: I'm a marketing director of, ahem, some years standing. I realised the other day that all five of my key UK competitors were employing marketing directors almost half my age. I know the ad industry is considered a young person's game, but always thought age and experience were more valued on the client side. Am I deluding myself?

A: As I've pointed out regularly every five years, marketing directors come in two flavours. There are those who see something called marketing as being a standalone discipline, detached from the product or service being marketed. These are the people you read about in the trade press: "Anglo-Galvanised (Aggregates) announces the appointment of Colin Thrust as marketing director. He has held similar positions at Rentokil, Cedar Valley Carehomes, Chuckitcharlie.com and Bristol Zoo."

They don't need to know anything much about any of these activities: they just try to flog more of them to more people. And, yes: they need to be young and agile.

And then there are marketing directors who know everything there is to know about the product or service they love and serve - and whose views are respected from laboratory to supermarket aisle. If you're one of those, you'll be just fine.

Q: One of my client relationships is getting quite rocky and I was hoping to schmooze my way back into his good books. Any suggestions for somewhere I can take him to wow his socks off? PS. He's not the Spearmint Rhino type.

A: I accept that there are, indeed, some clients who can be schmoozed into turning a blind eye to professional inadequacy. The trouble is, other agencies will know exactly who they are and will be perfectly capable of outschmoozing you. Schmoozable clients are inherently schmoozable, have an insatiable appetite for being schmoozed and find new schmoozers a great deal more exciting than old ones.

So if this client of yours is genuinely schmoozable, you're wasting your time and money because any relationship repair you manage to effect will be temporary. And if he's not schmoozable, you'll add insult to injury. Having failed to deliver on those confident promises you made when he awarded you his business, you're now clearly implying that you think he's corruptible.

Why not just get the work right?

"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.