CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: Our entire agency is working till all hours to pitch for an account that will realistically spend less than a couple of million ... in a good year. What's more, it's the sort of brand name that will make us look very desperate if we win it. We used to be the agency for big blue-chips ... will we be doing our own brand more harm than good by scrabbling about for crumbs like this one?

A: You say that you used to be the agency for big blue-chips: so what happened? No, don't tell me: I'll tell you. This is what happened.

Many years ago now, a lot of extremely talented and hardworking people built your agency and its reputation. They weren't at all snooty about the clients they worked for; they liked them to be honourable but size and sector were irrelevant. The work that they did helped turn small clients into big ones and crumbs into sizeable wholemeal loaves. Some even became blue-chips and so other blue-chips were naturally attracted.

Then people such as you joined the agency. Never having known what it was like to be poor, you took it for granted that your agency would always be rich. You took other things for granted as well, such as your clients and your agency's reputation. You hadn't noticed that brands, however strong, are never self-perpetuating but need a constant trickle-charge of performance to sustain that strength.

And now, of course, your agency is suffering horribly from a long and debilitating new-business famine and your management has started scrabbling about for crumbs. How undignified! How desperate we shall seem! You find it an affront to your own self-image.

Well, you have a choice. You can persuade your management to withdraw forever from the indignities of the marketplace and so opt for a certain if lingering death. Or you can help your management rebuild its business with the same conscientiousness and sense of humility that characterised your predecessors.

"But this isn't the agency I joined," I hear you cry. Indeed it isn't - and whose fault is that, I wonder?

Q: Big agencies are more compartmentalised than zoos, yet we continuously hear about the importance of good communications between our various disciplines. Would our ads be any better if media people, creative people, planning people and account people went out for a beer every now and again?

A: I have an even more revolutionary suggestion. I believe media people and creative people and planning people and account people should actually work together, on a day-to-day basis, as a group; and then go out for a beer together.

The only unit of value to a client is the account group. And by account group, I do not mean just the account persons with maybe a preferred planner or two in attendance. I mean at least one representative of every skill that the client is paying for, working together with a common end in mind. Making this group work is the responsibility of the account director, which is why it's the hardest job in advertising.

Clients are not in the least interested in departments - which is not to say that departments are unimportant. The best account groups are made up of departmental emissaries. Departments are responsible for hiring them, training them, challenging them, rewarding them and dispatching them to join the most suitable account groups. And departments remain their base stations, to which these drained and weary emissaries return; to be recharged and reinvigorated as if they were mobile telephones.

Every new agency knows all this; that's why the names on the brand new letterhead invariably represent the united skills that are on offer. It is only after this model has proved itself spectacularly successful, and the agency has quadrupled in size, that the working methods that propelled it to stardom are thoughtlessly abandoned. Funny lot, agency people.

- 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.

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