Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Jonathan Durden writes: It seems all specialist marketing services companies think they must individually set the comms strategy for their clients. As the networks consolidate, do you think there is a case for the WPPs and Omnicoms to offer a central "think-tank" of genius types, perhaps in the hope that the specialists could then do more creating, and less of the falling over to outdo one another?

A: Dear Jonathan, thank you very much for this (please note heavy irony). I thought of pretending I hadn't got it. It's the question of the century - so far - and I only wish I had as brief an answer. Whole books have already been written on the subject (see Space Race, by Jim Taylor, John Wiley).

Specialist marketing services companies want to be deeply involved in communications strategy for both good and bad reasons. It gets them closer to senior clients (that elusive seat at the top table); it gives them a thorough understanding of the client's business problems; and they believe that the best creative executions emerge as the result of a trial-and-feedback process rather than a baton-passing relay-race. They also hate with a corrosive passion being told that the strategy's been nailed down, the media schedule's been signed off, the budget's been agreed by the main board, the strapline's been checked for resonance in 43 countries: so may we just have 1x30-second TVC, 2x48-sht pstrs, a BOGOF pack and a rude viral by Tuesday week, please?

The better creative companies will never gladly surrender their claim on strategy-setting; they might as well take to writing jokes for Christmas crackers or rhymes for Hallmark greetings cards.

The holding company solution you suggest is halfway there already. Omnicom and WPP can put together a central think-tank - though the tanks are staffed more by people seconded from the operating companies than from the holding companies themselves. It will remain one of many options.

My guess is this: we're in for many years of muddle. Clients won't know who to call on first. Communications companies with no historical attachments to favoured media will be attractive for all the obvious reasons. We'll live in a mixed economy. But the best, most enduring, most valuable IDEAS will continue to emerge from groups of people who are not only capable of inventing an elderly, animated, kilt-wearing kookaburra but also of knowing why it's the business-driven answer to a client's distribution weakness. I'd never have stayed in the business if I'd had to choose between the two.

Q: I've been the marketing director of a medium-sized business for nearly eight years and I'm approaching my 53rd birthday. Six months ago, the company hired a new managing director (he's 38) and, ever since, I've been feeling increasingly sidelined. I am left out of management meetings and even my staff are starting to notice a change in my status. Getting older has never been a concern of mine, but I'm now wondering if it's my age that is a problem for him. I don't really want to leave - and I'd probably be considered too old to get another job anyway! What should I do?

A: Please excuse my old-fashioned approach - but it may depend on how good you are. I forget what the average tenure of a marketing director is these days. To judge from the inside pages of our trade magazines, it's about a week. You've survived nearly eight years. This suggests that either your previous managing director wasn't that committed to Key Performance Indicators and stuff (perhaps that's why he was replaced?) or that you're good at what you do.

So let's assume you're good. In which case, your new MD is dumb to sideline you, it'll soon show up and you'll be welcomed back into the inner circle.

If that doesn't happen, cling on to the knowledge that these days, the average tenure of a managing director is only marginally longer than that of a marketing director.

There remains the possibility that he's cut you out because he stands in awe of your experience and superior intelligence and feels uncomfortable giving directions to an older man ... On second thoughts, forget it. If you're good, he's dumb. I'm less certain what to say if you're not good.

Q: Someone in account management described our agency's planning dept as KIBO (Knowledge In, Bullshit Out). What acronym best describes account management at its worst?

A: DIMWIT: Do I Mean What I Think? Alternatively, DITWIM: Do I Think What I Mean? Alternatively, DIT: Do I Think? Other suggestions, please, to the address below. There's plenty of room for improvement.

- "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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