Close-up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: We're a multinational company and are holding a pitch to find an advertising agency. We've made all the parties involved sign a confidentiality agreement, but still it's been leaked to the press. Should we sack them all and start again - what's the best way to handle this? A: Your question has made me stop and think (not a moment too soon, I hear you mutter). And what your question has made me stop and think about is this: when did the selection of an ad agency become such a highly charged and cumbersome process? And are the selections more satisfactory as a result?

When I were a lad, creative shoot-outs were rare. Some agencies refused to participate on principle. Agencies would be visited and interviewed; work for existing clients (not just "the reel") and potential account group personnel would be examined closely; nothing as indecorous as money would be mentioned; and a few weeks later a paragraph might appear on page 12 of the World's Press News to the effect that Burgrips Ltd (Aggregates) had appointed George Watkins Ltd as their advertising agents. I have no reason to believe that Burgrips Ltd (Aggregates) were any more likely to regret their decision than any of today's clients at the end of a six-month, multi-agency marathon in the course of which they will have seen five mutually exclusive creative recommendations, each presented with absolute conviction, from which a choice could be made only after two of the recommendations had been separated by a research company whose methodology no- one was totally comfortable with.

So why, to return your question with another, did you ask your contending agencies to sign confidentiality agreements? The only guaranteed method of maintaining confidentiality is not to insist on it in the first place. To sack them all now when most must be innocent would be to compound your error.

I've tried very hard to understand the reasoning behind your company's decision to proceed in this laborious and secretive way. It surely can't be to protect individuals from subsequent accusations of misjudgment?

Or to eliminate judgment altogether? No, no, perish the thought.

Q: I am a junk food client. There, I said it. Since the newspaper headlines last month about the child of three who died of obesity I have thought about ditching my job and working in the charity sector. Any advice on how to rationalise these dark feelings?

A: You're much too nice to be alive, let alone a junk food client. You're also naive and very slightly vain.

Millions of us make and market stuff which, when grossly misused, contributes to ill health and death. It is harder to find exceptions than examples.

Those who misuse this stuff do not do so in ignorance. Reason must tell you all this; and reason must examine and reject the alternatives. Reason also dictates that you continue to feel sick at the thought of a three-year-old child dying of obesity.

I suspect your problem springs not just from raw conscience but also from the disapproving expression on the face of your daughter's headmistress.

Q: One of our founding partners left over a year ago and has now gone to another network. We are thinking of revamping the agency including a name change, which will involve removing his name from above the door. What's the best way of doing this without it seeming like a knee-jerk reaction or sour grapes?

A: A knee that took over a year to jerk would bring a frown to the face of most physicians. And only if your erstwhile partner has already poached your three most profitable clients should you worry about sour grapes.

Does your professional reputation stand as high as it did before your partner deserted? Then dither no longer. If it doesn't, don't bank on a name change to restore it.

- 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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