I’ve recently moved from a very good agency to one regarded by many to be at the top of the tree. When they made their offer, I made it very clear I wanted to work on their flagship award-winning toiletries client, and I thought we’d agreed this as part of the deal. On arrival, I find that, instead, I’ve been allocated to a labour-intensive retail account with little creative potential. I’m thinking of getting my solicitor to write a stiff letter, but thought I’d ask you first.
What a lovely little story. It’s almost as if Solomon himself had devised it. But, of course, it wasn’t Solomon – it was your new agency.
And such is its cunning, such is its delicious understanding of human vanity, creativity and intrinsic worth, and so deftly does it set out to expose your character to a brutal truth, that you should feel nothing but further admiration for them. It’s easy to see why they are at the top of the tree.
You clearly have a high opinion of yourself and your talent. By the sound of things, you’ve built your reputation through working on highly fashionable accounts that offer gratifying
opportunities for gong acquisition. You were prepared to accept your new agency’s deal only on the strict condition that even more such opportunities would be winging your way.
Your new agency, however, wanted to know more. It wanted to know whether you were capable of doing award-winning work only on those bits of business that openly demanded award-winning work; a valuable ability, certainly, but not one that puts you in the first rank of talent. Or whether you had that rarest of all abilities: to turn those accounts that others scorn into little treasure chests in their own right.
And that’s what they’re saying to you now: "We know you can do the easy stuff, but we’ve already got people who can do the easy stuff. What we really want to know is if you can take on a labour-intensive retail account, one that most others would dismiss as having zilch in the way of creative potential, and make it the one bit of business that suddenly everyone else is clamouring to work on."
In other words, they would quite like to know whether you’re a dilettante, cherry-picking pothunter – or whether you’re an exceptionally talented advertising person.
That letter from your solicitor will tell them all they need to know.
Does it matter that virtually no-one who works at or with TBWA, or used to, or might do in future, knows what these four initials stand for?
I may be the only person left who remembers that TBWA was founded 44 years ago by an American, Bill Tragos; a Frenchman, Claude Bonnange; a Swiss, Uli Wiesendanger; and an Italian, Paolo Ajroldi.
Even in its earliest years, you were unlikely to hear a client say: "I’m seriously thinking of putting my business with Tragos Bonnange Wiesendanger and Ajroldi."
From the very beginning, for fairly obvious reasons, they were known as TBWA.
So it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Initials and numbers, if fed with consistent meaning, can be at least as potent as spelt-out words. Mikhail Kalashnikov died recently; but the AK-47 will continue to be one of the world’s most evocative names.
The other day, I noticed our managing director picking up litter outside our front door. Is this OCD, OTT or just odd?
None of the above. It’s admirable. Your managing director clearly knows about brands. He knows that the smallest of gravy stains on a restaurant menu may be enough to lose a customer for life. He knows that one misspelt name on a PowerPoint slide may be enough to get you bumped off that shortlist. He knows that discarded Pret napkins can suggest careless company custodians.
If he’s as scrupulous about your work for clients as he is about doorstep litter, he must be running an excellent agency.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he was a she.
I know you’ve quoted Victoria Beckham, but has she ever asked to meet you?
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE