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

Q: As a client I'm amazed that the people in agencies who have no vested interest in keeping costs down (creatives) are allowed free reign (perhaps you mean rein?) with the most expensive purchase an agency will ever make (commercials production). Am I missing something?

A: What you seem to be missing is any understanding of the real-life client/agency relationship. Nobody in your agency has vested interest in keeping costs down. However much you might long to sub-contract cost control, you can't. You and your company bear the costs; only you can determine their magnitude. That's one of the things you're paid to do - and one of the reasons you deserve to be paid well.

Creatives don't see themselves as having free rein. They see every creative assignment as a battle in the war between Beauty and the Beancounter.

They cannot understand why you should balk at spending an extra few hundred thousand pounds on production when it will give you a work of transcendent wonder. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong; and you'll only know which after the money's been spent. Unless you forbid them from spending it, of course, in which case you'll never know.

Your agency has everything to gain from generous production budgets.

Do not think them villainous for recommending them. Only you can weigh the cost against the likely return. It's extremely difficult and it won't make you loved but I'm afraid it's your call.

PS. None of the above excuses mindless and unprofessional extravagance.

It's not difficult to spot. The cost of production is dictated not by directors but by writers. Huge savings can often be made, with no loss of effect, by skillful writing. Award your agency a good lunch and several bonus points every time they pull this off.

Q: You are obviously a man of good taste. Have you ever resorted to physical violence to get a point across?

A: I would resort to physical violence to get a point across only to make the point that resorting to physical violence might cow people into assent but will never get a point across. So far, that's never been a point I've needed to get across.

Q: I'm the marketing director of a large nationwide retailer. I've recently drawn up a shortlist of agencies to pitch for my advertising and media accounts. But finding shops without a conflict was tricky and I've ended up including some that work for competitors. They propose to set up subsidiary operations to handle my business. Are these kind of operations genuinely independent?

A: No, of course not. But there again, they don't need to be. No client has ever been seriously disadvantaged by appointing an agency already employed by a competitor.

Confidentiality? There is no recorded instance of an advertising agency passing on information so sensitive that they seriously damaged a client's business plans. Secrets of this kind exist mainly in fiction; and when they do exist, are far more likely to be leaked by disgruntled ex-employees.

Commitment? As I'm sure you know, there's more ruthless competition between agency account groups than there is between agencies.

So why all the fuss about conflicting accounts? Because, when faced with a long list of adequate potential agencies, account conflict provides people like you with a wonderfully respectable reason for eliminating a few of them.

It also comes in handy when your chairman invites you to include the agency his nephew has just joined.

But has nothing whatever to do with picking the best agency.

You may, however, find some difficulty in persuading your board of this fact: asking you shrewdly if there's any account conflict makes them feel astute and worldly.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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