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

Q: A TV company is trying to entice me back to the medium by offering to make my future TV ads for me. Although tempted by the offer (it's very cheap) I've seen some of the quality of the channel's output and frankly it's abysmal. What do you make of the trend of broadcasters offering creative services and will their programme production values be reflected in their advertising?

A: Clients complain about the cost of commercial production so persistently that TV companies come to believe that here lies the true reason for their soggy sales performance.

They're wrong, of course; but it leads them regularly, every 25 years, to try to get into the cut-price commercials business. The trend you identify is just a familiar old trend whose time is coming round again.

Twenty-five years ago, a television programme company, now defunct, made our agency the same offer. We responded by lending them a 35mm print of a commercial that had been beautifully lit and directed by Terry Donovan and invited them to replicate it. The deal we put to them was this: if they were capable of producing a copy that was indistinguishable from the original, we would be happy to recommend them to our client.

After six weeks, I got the original print back with a hand-written note saying, OK, OK, we give up. They'd spent six weeks failing to match the Donovan quality and now they needed their studio back.

You could always try the same ruse - but without the commitment. The time to get back into television is not when you can make a cheap commercial but when you think it's the best buy for your brand.

Q: The network boss has invited me to his golf day. I can't play. Should I go and make the best of it, do a bit of networking, etc - or snub him and stay away?

A: There are times when I feel this column is degenerating into a clinic for chronically inadequate human beings. I can only suppose that you lay bare your frailties so unashamedly only because you have yet to recognise them.

Your boss is having a golf day because your boss likes golf. Your boss likes playing golf with people who like playing golf. To borrow a favourite phrase of his, your boss doesn't give a parson's fart whether you go to his golf day or not.

Have I made myself clear?

So go along, join in the drinks, find a few lost balls - and spend the rest of the time reconstructing your id.

Q: We've just been appointed to run the direct marketing throughout Europe for a large retail client. The ad agency helped shoe us in, but their advertising is crap and the client has suggested we look at it. Is it immoral to try and nick their business after all the help they've given us?

A: Whenever you face a predicament of this kind, I strongly advise you to follow this rule.

Always play the decent card first. You may not feel like playing the decent card and you may not want the decent card to win. But you must always play it first.

Go to your opposite number at the advertising agency. Tell him what's happening. Offer to help. Be ostentatiously decent. Be decent in writing.

Be decent in writing with copies to other people.

Tell your client that you sincerely believe that it's in much his best interest to give his advertising agency time to get it right - and that you're only too happy to help.

If the decent card works, then the advertising gets better, your agency colleagues are suffused with gratitude and your client is confirmed in his belief that you a man of wisdom and principle.

And if the decent card doesn't work, then go for the business like a ferret. God knows, nobody can say you didn't try ...

- 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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