A: Agencies claim, sometimes truthfully, to have a deep and sensitive understanding of consumers. Surprising, then, that their understanding of clients should be both insensitive and profoundly shallow.
It may very well be that some clients actually are persuaded to look more favourably on those suppliant agencies, which distribute largesse; but let me ask those agencies three questions.
Are venal clients really the kind of clients a principled agency such as yours should be attempting to recruit?
More pragmatically: what makes you think that venal clients will renounce venality the moment you've ensnared them?
And finally: given your deep and sensitive understanding of consumers, hasn't it occurred to you that even the most venal of clients might find being publicly assumed to be venal a touch on the offensive side?
The time for largesse, if at all, is after the consummation, not before.
When in wooing mode, the best agency lures consist of hard evidence of proprietary and professional skills likely to advance both the profitability of the brand and the career of its manager. Since, even by my standards, this is an observation self-evident to the point of flatulence, I can only assume that, by resorting to largesse, agencies are openly conceding that unfortunately they have no such evidence.
Q: In the pub the other night we had an argument about jobs you needed bugger all training to get into. Estate agency, for instance. What a laugh - a bunch of slick-suited charlatans trying to sell you some over-hyped property. And then we talked about the advertising profession. How much training do you need to get in on the ground floor?
And please don't ever again call advertising a profession. A profession is "a calling requiring specialised knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation" (Webster). And that's before you start getting paid for it. (This, of course, does not preclude the use of the word "professional". See above and below.)
A very long time ago, the IPA held examinations. They invited students to respond to questions such as: Draw up a marketing plan for knee-high fashion boots for men. Thinking that such questions in no way identified the skills demanded of advertising persons in real life, I tentatively suggested others. One went like this:
You are the chairman of a middle-sized agency. You read in Campaign that your managing director and three of your other directors have resigned, taking with them your one profitable account and both your top creative people. Draft a letter to your remaining clients explaining how these changes will dramatically improve the quality of your service.
Shortly afterwards, the IPA sensibly dropped its examinations to concentrate on training - which it continues to do excellently.
There are, I'm quite certain, far more highly professional people in advertising than there are, for example, in estate agency: not, I grant you, the most enviable of accolades, and certainly not enough to justify calling our endlessly intriguing trade a profession. But that suits me just fine.
Q: I have to scrap the company car policy. I know it's going to cause an absolute stink. What is it about admen and their cars?
A: Oh, you know ... it's this desperate search for identity that plagues all people with corrosive insecurity. Am I a Porsche or just an Austin Metro?
Think Foxtons: but instead of Mini Coopers allow all your senior staff to drive Smart cars - painted in your corporate colours, naturally, and carrying a creative slogan. No congestion charges and, as promotional items, probably tax allowable as well. You'll soon be the most talked-about agency in town.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.