A: Your enquiry raises wide-ranging questions about the role and value of advisers generally. You use the phrase "dating agencies"; but executive search companies and marketing services intermediaries differ from real dating agencies in one crucial respect.
No potential bride or groom subscribes to a dating agency with the objective of acquiring a scapegoat should things go wrong.
"I'm sorry about this, Nigel, but I know it's for the best. We tried - God knows we tried - but we just weren't meant for each other. It's not our fault - we mustn't blame ourselves. We put our total trust in Meet-a-Mate and they let us down terribly. I'll certainly not be using them again."
But that, of course, is precisely the reason for the employment of most commercial matchmakers. When the new £3 million-a-year-plus-twice-as-many-options CEO is given a £4 million golden handshake after 14 erratic months at the helm, it's clear that no-one within the company is in any way to blame. "We put our total trust in Global Talent Finders and they let us down terribly. We'll certainly not be using them again."
So when your new creative agency fails to deliver the work in time for the sales conference and then produces an incomprehensible campaign that falls foul of the Advertising Standards Authority - and when your main board invites you to join them for a good-natured conversation about all this - you will not regret having employed a reputable independent adviser. If you just want to appoint the best creative agency, however, you should do what most people do when they go about the relatively unimportant task of choosing a life-mate: get to know them very well indeed before popping the question.
Q: I am an account director with a foreign shoot to manage and a tight budget. But, as usual, the TV producer has kept a fair amount of cash aside for a five-star hotel and top-notch dinners. My client believes in watching the pennies and will go mad when he arrives and works out how much this is all costing. TV production refuse to change the hotel, the client wants to know where to book himself in - help!
A: As a super-conscientious account person, particularly in these troubled times, you will obviously want to reassure yourself that nothing about this foreign location exposes your client to serious threat. If you search diligently enough, I would be surprised if you did not unearth the existence of a new and virulent virus. As you may know, such risks, once identified, cannot be covered by normal Key Player insurance policies. To conceal these disappointing facts from your client, his family and his company would be an act of criminal irresponsibility on your part.
Q: I run a small agency whose biggest client is about to be bought by a much-bigger rival. This rival has a large agency in place, and has done for several years. Have you got any tips on how to persuade a massive corporation that a small agency is exactly what it needs?
A: If you've always worked in small agencies, you may have swallowed the big agency propaganda that all big clients prefer big agencies. This is not true. Big clients end up with big agencies for all sorts of reasons - some of them actually sound - but they never lose their wistful hankering for a small, agile, inventive, anarchic, award-winning alchemist of an agency: capable of propelling both the brand and its managers into an overnight stratosphere of fame and fortune. Now it may well be the case that, of the characteristics listed above, smallness is the only one to which your agency can lay legitimate claim; but legend holds that small is beautiful.
Sow this seed. You may well discover that it is your big incumbent rival that has the greater grounds for apprehension.
- 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.