Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'm one of those clients who have clung on for grim death and have survived in this business into my fifties. Now all my agencies are talking to me about digital this, mobile that. Am I too old to hope to understand how a young person really uses these new media?

A: My, you've done well. Congratulations. But if you want to cling on a bit longer, do please abandon the belief that you need to understand things. Young, thrusting people have to understand things. You don't. What's more, you can't. And if you pretend to understand things, young thrusting people will roll their eyes and exchange pitying glances.

Understanding what's going on is the preserve of the young; that's their pitch, so don't trespass. Going on about avatars when you've no idea what you're talking about will make you seem even more ridiculous than someone of your age naturally is. Believe me, I've been there. No - make them play on your own pitch.

Cultivate the Delphic and the gnomic. Use silence creatively. Imagine yourself very slowly filling an imaginary pipe with imaginary tobacco. Then say: "It's not the man who saws the logs who needs the fire." I promise you: no-one will ask you what that means. And you'll never have to ask them what avatars are. You'll be good for another ten years, easy.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I would like your views on industry awards. I run a medium-sized media agency and my joint managing director and I are currently deliberating on whether to submit entries for forthcoming media awards. I am very reluctant to spend much time on this due to the pressure it exerts on our time and the disappointment of not winning. My partner, on the other hand, is very keen and wants to submit our work for every single category and then some. Are these awards worth spending time on? How seriously do clients, media owners and our peers take them? Ultimately, what is their worth?

A: Let's take media owners, your peers and clients in that order.

Media owners, including the trade press, love awards. Not only do they make money from them, which is nice enough in itself, but awards also make the stuff that they sell or the scene they report seem a touch more glamorous - a little closer to showbiz. The trade press is respectful of econometric modelling, naturally, and sometimes even pretends to understand it; but given the choice between publishing an in-depth analysis of the contribution of ethnography to the understanding of otherwise unarticulated cultural values or lots of pictures of people getting gongs, they'll go for the gongs every time. It doesn't matter what the gongs are for. Nobody will ever ask. Who reads the certificates on opticians' walls? Media owners just feel better when dealing with gong-getting agencies.

Your peers have polarised views about media awards. Those who win them value them highly and those who don't, don't. To avoid disappointment, you can ensure that you remain a consistent non-winner by never entering. Ensuring that you remain a consistent winner is more difficult.

The client view of media awards is, of course, the critical one. It's also admirably clear. Clients are not in the least impressed by agencies that win media awards. I've talked to lots of them and they're quite unanimous: awards mean nothing to them. Hard-nosed haggling on their behalf is all they care about. But while it's absolutely true that the presence of awards leaves all clients cold, they also feel profoundly uneasy at their absence.

They sit through three consecutive competitive presentations. The first two agencies make much of their awards, only to see them contemptuously dismissed by the adjudicating panel. Agency Three doesn't mention awards from start to finish. The following morning, the adjudicating panel meets to agree on a winner. "Let's try a process of elimination," says the senior client. "All three impressive, of course, but I personally thought that last agency just a little bit short on creativity. Anyone else feel the same?" And so Agency Three is the first to bite the dust; and all for the sake of a few enigmatic ornaments.

So you're probably right in what you think about media awards and quite certainly wrong in what you want to do about them. So's your partner, for the opposite reasons. Don't boycott them and don't enter indiscriminately. Be very selective. Since there are now more media awards than there are media plans, you have a fair chance of winning one or two. People won't think any better of you for that - but they'll stop penalising you for not.

- "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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