Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Myself and my fellow agency directors agree that one of our number has to go. He joined us with glowing references but it's now clear we were conned. He's lazy, incompetent and by no means the sharpest tool in the box. The problem is that our chairman and chief executive hates confrontation and would rather lock himself in the loo for the day than fire the man. How do we force him to do what's necessary?

A: Advertising agencies are haunted by the belief that people employed by other agencies are far more talented than their own. Year after year, the excited buzz goes round: we've poached a star from GBH! And year after year, disappointment follows. So here are two things you need to know.

Even genuinely brilliant people are never brilliant everywhere. What's truly brilliant is the match of particular people to particular agencies. Transplant them, and often something dies. Second, the star you're able to poach from GBH is almost certainly not a star. Good agencies are good at holding on to stars. The inadequate, on the other hand, are released with professionally simulated distress and glowing references. That's how you ended up with an incompetent thicko. So now it's your turn.

If your chairman and chief executive is too chicken to fire him, then the least he can do is write a set of glowing references. Simultaneously, let it be known (confidentially, of course) that thicko was personally responsible for your last three new-business triumphs. Make sure this information reaches a couple of recruitment consultants known to favour churn. Depend on the fact that agencies are haunted by the belief that people employed by other agencies are far more talented than their own. Thicko will soon be faced with an embarrassing choice of mouth-watering job offers and you'll draft a press release expressing convincingly simulated distress.

That should sort out thicko but leave you with the bigger problem: how to ditch your spineless chief executive. Please write to someone else about that.

Q: What can I do to stop my agencies from competing for the intellectual high ground? Should I employ one agency to work on all strategy and enforce it on the others or should the ideas come from any agency and be implemented across the board by the others? Should I remunerate them based on who has come up with the idea or does that just breed contempt among my agencies?

A: I don't blame you for being confused. It's never been a more distracting time to be a client. At precisely the moment the marketing world agrees on the critical importance of integrated communications, the suppliers of those communications choose to disintegrate. Thirty years ago, we mocked the offer of one-stop shopping. Now you can't even buy medium and message from the same place. But there is one incontrovertible truth, widely ignored, that may help you.

The invention of strategy and the invention of creative executions are not two distinct stages of a relay race. No planner, whether in-house or as part of a separate company, should be permitted to hand over a communications brief as if it were a baton and take no further interest in the proceedings. Even the best of briefs is no more than a provocative hypothesis. As every honest case-history confirms, strategy evolves as execution develops. The good strategist stays on the job, monitoring feedback and modifying accordingly, through to the end.

So whatever you do, don't ask one organisation to be responsible for strategy and another for execution. The Law of Diminished Responsibility kicks in immediately. Strategy: "By positioning Burgrips as today's must-have personal requisite, achieve sector dominance." Now over to the creative chappies - and best of luck.

Q: I'm an account director working at an agency where morale is so low everyone keeps talking about leaving. Frankly, the problem's at the top. What we need is a bit of leadership, some inspiration and assurances that, despite a string of account losses over the past year, things will be OK. How can I engineer the demise of my boss?

A: Inadequate CEOs are doubly dangerous. They fail to provide the leadership for which they're paid; and, simply by being there, they prevent anyone else from providing it. Of these two failings, the second is the more damaging. So don't waste a second's thought on how to get rid of the incumbent. First, and collectively, you must identify - and secure - his successor. The subsequent conversation may be a trifle tricky; but if you've conferred and conspired meticulously, he'll know to go quietly.

- "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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