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

Q: Paul Smith, the regional creative director EMEA at Ogilvy & Mather, writes: After reading your column, I noticed an article that posited the notion that people are too busy to read long copy. This is a fascinating insight especially as newspaper sales are on the increase; what do they imagine happens to all these papers?

Perhaps what these four worthy gentlemen meant to say was that the public can't be bothered to read the "uninspired dross" that today's art school-trained copywriters try to pass off as copy?

A: Dear Paul, many thanks for your enquiry. I had a shot at answering a similar question in April. Since my answer was extremely long, it's entirely possible that nobody read it. Towards the end, I wrote: "No good advertisement contains a single unnecessary word. Some good advertisements contain no words and some two thousand. If there were more good words being written and read, the debate would be seen to be as specious as it is."

Contempt for copy is widespread and shameless. Clients are expected to approve print ads on the basis of picture, headline and lorem ipsum dolor. Cravenly, they do. Copywriters deign to write copy only when ads have already been approved. Typographers then (often mercifully) render these token words illegible.

Given the evident inability of creative directors to extract good words from their creative teams, I suggest a benign conspiracy of clients. Speaking as one, they should: a) refuse even to consider any print advertisement until the copy has been written in full. And b) relentlessly and repeatedly reject all ads until the text is fresh, evocative, persuasive and economical.

Their agencies would very soon hire some writers.

Q: The agency I work for has won a really nice piece of business. I was central to the pitch but not one of the A team.

Our strategy was based on thinking beyond the 30-second commercial. Well - our creative director is certainly thinking beyond the 30-second commercial as he has decided what this client really, really needs is a showcase 90-second commercial! I've heard he wants to get Sam Mendes to do it. How can I stop us losing the business before we've even won it?

A: It is, I suppose, just conceivable that your creative director is right.

But enough of such milksop thinking. It's a great deal more probable that the only person who really, really needs this showcase 90-second commercial is your creative director.

He will, I bet you, in putting the case for such a commercial, have called for courage. He will expect you to exhibit courage in championing it and your client to exhibit courage in accepting it. The only protagonist in this adventure required to exhibit no courage whatsoever is your creative director.

"Have courage!" he cries from the safety of his dugout as you and your client tiptoe gingerly into the minefield.

I suggest your agency learns from its clients and begins to invite its creative leadership to share in the risks it so enthusiastically recommends to others. Agree with your creative director a set of written criteria by which the performance of his showcase commercial will be judged. Include awards by all means, but do not restrict them to awards.

Agree sales targets and share targets.

Agree that if your agency is obliged to write off some part of any production overspend, your creative director will fund a given percentage of that overspend from his after-tax salary. Agree that if the client's marketing director is fired as a direct result of the commercial's performance, your creative director will resign without further discussion.

Now invite him to return to the original strategy of thinking beyond the 30-second commercial and see if his enthusiasm for this route has been in any way rekindled.

- 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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