Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A client writes: While our agency has produced sterling work for us over the past five years, there's a general feeling - both in the company and the trade press - that none of it has been as good as our launch campaign, created by another agency. Should we consider revisiting our original strategy?

A: You may remember Punch. This humorous magazine appeared weekly, with occasional interruptions, from 1841 until 2002. For most of that time, as its reputation and circulation soared, its readers complained that it wasn't nearly as good as it used to be. It was 150 years before they were right.

So it's entirely possible that you're suffering from what we call Rosy Retrospection, a distortion of memory that constantly perceives the past as better than the present despite commonly accepted rising standards. The trade press suffers from Rosy Retrospection in a big way.

Alternatively, you may be right, so forgive me if I ask: if they were so good, what made you abandon your original strategy and your original agency in the first place?

Boredom, perhaps? The shapely ankle of an alluring new agency? Your new marketing director?

That change back then didn't do you any favours. There's no reason to believe that another change now, fuelled by no new vision, will serve you any better. The temptation to return, to build on former glory, is touchingly human and understandable: it seems to promise marketing's ultimate nirvana, risk-free originality. But the archive folder of successful strategy revivals is a very slim one indeed.

You have an agency of five years' standing. They know you and you know them. They've done sterling work - by which, of course, you mean work that's strategically unexceptionable but without spark. So before you do anything else, inspire them to fly. Challenge them to produce work which, in five years' time, even without the filter of Rosy Retrospection, will be seen to have set enviable new standards. If you're prepared to back them through a couple of bumpy months, I bet they'll deliver.

Q: I'm a big-name creative director with a salary to match but I'm frustrated at running a large creative department doing work for a lot of unadventurous clients. I'd like to get back to what I enjoy most, that's to say doing edgy work in a creative boutique. However, I've grown accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, as well as having a free-spending ex-wife to support. How can I persuade my bosses to back me in a spin-off, which will allow me to do what I want without having to take a huge financial hit?

A: I'd better say this very quietly and then duck. Not all unadventurous clients are wrong. Some clients choose to be unadventurous because their brands would not benefit from adventurous advertising. These clients do not believe that their role in life is to subsidise big-name creative directors in their blinkered pursuit of edgy work.

What these clients want from big-name creative directors is the wisdom and brilliance to produce the most challenging kind of advertising there is. In the words of the original Mr Heinz, to do the common thing uncommonly well.

Any large agency will have all sorts of brands on its roster. Some will benefit from edgy, adventurous advertising; and some will benefit from advertising that does the common thing uncommonly well. As the overall creative director of such an agency, you're worth your money only if you're capable of identifying both; of respecting both; of inspiring both; and take equal pride in delivering both.

If you're determined to limit your output to edgy work, you're free to do so. But by making this choice, you limit your value. So don't expect your bosses to pay you for conducting a 72-piece orchestra when you're interested only in the woodwind.

Nick Moore, the creative director of Tequila\London, writes: A large internet service provider has launched a new campaign. I think it's pretty good. My only beef is that it is damn nearly a photocopy of the campaign we proposed when we unsuccessfully pitched to them nine months ago. Should I simply chuckle at yet another of life's uncanny coincidences? Or have I been mugged? If so, should I report the incident to the Police?

Dear Nick, thanks.

To answer your question: chuckle.

You may not find it comes easily at first, so practise in your bathroom.

Chuckle. In the bar and on the bus, chuckle.

I hope you have a long and rewarding career. An ability to chuckle when you don't feel like chuckling should ensure you do.

- "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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