Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, as a client I've always suspected that my ad agency rather fancied themselves as Hollywood moviemakers. Now they're telling me that I should be making TV shows instead of ads because that's where the future is. Are they just indulging their filmic obsessions?

A: Advertising agencies have binary minds. Things are either 0 or 1. Black or white. In or out. Cool or crap. It makes them feel decisive and purposeful.

Not for ad agencies the measured wisdom of the great E F Schumacher: "Whenever one encounters such opposites, each of them with persuasive arguments in its favour, it is worth looking into the depth of the problem for something more than compromise, more than a half-and-half solution. Maybe what we really need is not either-or but the-one-and-the-other-at-the-same-time."

That's the kind of academic flim-flam that makes cutting-edge agencies choke on their sushi. For years, your agency told you it was TV or nothing.

Now they're telling you it's content or nothing. Full marks for consistency: they're wrong every time.

If they're too dumb to realise that what you need is "the-one-and-the-other-at-the-same-time" - and that they'd better be very good at both - then you should feel free to fire them with a clear conscience.

Q: We have just narrowly failed to win in a high-profile pitch for a prestigious advertiser. We now want to turn our attention to its biggest rival whose account we know is shaky at its current agency. What do we say if asked by our prospect why we think we should be considered for the business when its nearest competitor didn't think we were good enough?

A: Every one of today's high-profile CEOs was once, in youth, turned down for a job. All the key people in your new quarry company, including its CEO, will have once been rejected by a rival. They will never have forgotten it. Find out who they are and when and by whom they were rejected. These are your future friends - and will be more than ready to agree with the following propositions: a) in their selection of personnel, companies do not always make the right decisions; b) there's nothing like rejection to fire the rejected up to new heights of determination and success; c) the greatest buzz an agency can experience is to apply its talents to the slaughtering of a client's competitor which had itself been offered those talents but chose to spurn them.

So in your pursuit of this new prospect, you're not disadvantaged: you're miraculously favoured. You know their enemy, you know their market, you have the team - and you're fired to the point of combustion. They'd be mad to choose anyone else.

Q: Given the mutual historical emnity of its members, what chances do you think Thinkbox has of succeeding? I only ask because I've been invited to a Thinkbox roundtable dinner in June and I'm not sure whether it's worth putting in my diary, as it might never happen.

A: Once upon a time, in a large and successful ad agency, there lived a very senior management executive who was universally despised. When he finally retired, the cheers could be heard from board- to boiler-room.

Happiness reigned - for very nearly three weeks. Thereafter, the agency split into warring factions with all competitive energies directed inwards.

Momentum died.

Not for the first time, the human race had been reminded of the incomparable value of a common enemy.

Go to that dinner and observe closely. Whenever little rivalries surface, mention online advertising. Express surprise at the long-term robustness of outdoor and radio. Predict the imminent acceptance of overt product placement. You'll find those old enmities will be laughingly dismissed as affectionate family squabbles; and the close, hot breath of common enemies will drive your hosts to a necessary unity.

Q: I am a frustrated account exec and feel that I should be promoted but my boss says that unless I learn to "keep my ducks in a row" I won't be. What does this mean?

A: It means your boss doesn't think you deserve to be promoted. And the fact that you don't understand why you don't deserve to be promoted has strengthened his conviction that you don't deserve to be promoted. Nobody knows why an inability to keep ducks in a row disqualifies executives from promotion. It doesn't matter. It's just a kinder way of telling people that they don't deserve to be promoted. Cleverer people (ie. people who deserve to be promoted) understand that.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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