Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... JB

Q: A client has just poked me on Facebook and wants me to become a "friend". What do I do?

A: Oh for God's sake, stop being so prissy. Poke doesn't mean poke any more: you're not being sexually invaded or morally compromised. I think it's charming that your client should want you as a friend - just like primary school, isn't it? And just about as sophisticated.

And like other playground friendships, it probably won't last very long anyway.

Q: I'm from an agency that's just won a huge piece of business. It's a great account, but I'm concerned that, under Tupe, I could be forced to take on a load of staff from the rival agency we won the business from. I just can't see how this will work. I could be forced to work with my sworn enemy and not only that the client will have to work with people they deemed sub-standard. Is there anything I can do to prevent this happening?

A: There may still be one or two Campaign readers not wholly conversant with the finer details of Tupe - so let me do my best, yet again, to clarify matters. Tupe stands for the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and 2006 - and, in the polished prose of the DTI, it's designed to preserve employees' terms and conditions when a business or undertaking, or part of one, is transferred to a new employer. An agency account group is classified as an undertaking.

So crudely interpreted, this is what Tupe may mean for a client. Having suffered insolence, incompetence and extravagance for nearly eight years, the client finally fires his agency. After an extremely expensive review, conducted over a nine-month period, the client appoints a new one. On visiting his new agency for the first time, the client's expectations run high: new brains, new thoughts, new optimism - a brand new beginning for him and his brand! And then he's shown into the meeting room. It's full of the same old faces; precisely those faces he's consistently found to be insolent, incompetent and extravagant. They wave at him cheerfully. "Hi, Gavin," they chirrup. "Great to be back!"

For the CEO of the newly appointed agency, as you rightly surmise, the problem is just as acute. "I think you'll find, Gavin," you say lamely, "that a complete change of context and culture can be just as reinvigorating as a complete change of personnel. And, besides, they already know your business ..."

Gavin bursts into tears.

By far the most charitable explanation for the existence of Tupe is that it was cooked up by a brilliantly Machiavellian sub-committee of the IPA as a way of deterring itinerant marketing directors from conducting frivolous agency reviews.

In fact, both the IPA and ISBA have given a great deal of thought to working with Tupe. Much your best bet is to get in touch. According to the IPA's website, their legal director, Marina Palomba, is the one to call: (020) 7201 8242.

Q: A private equity company is circling one of our clients. Should we be worried - accounts always seem to review after they've been snapped up by the likes of Permira, don't they?

A: Private equity companies exist in order to take maximum advantage of tax anomalies and so make large sums of money for their participants. But even at a time of unapologetic greed, they still feel the need for fig-leaves. So it is that private equity companies commonly dramatise the invaluable service they provide to society by equating their function to that of personal trainers. Having taken on the obese and sluggish, they strip out the fat, trim up the muscles - and send their companies back into the global arena, now tanned and taut-bellied, to compete successfully for the benefit not only of their employees, but indeed of the nation as a whole. For all this to be even faintly credible, incisive, headline-grabbing action needs to taken. So don't just worry; redouble your new-business drive. (You may, of course, be saved by the sub-prime crisis; but don't bank on it.)

Q: What are your thoughts on advertising agencies launching divisions to invest in brands? Do ad men make good investors?

A: Warren Buffett has never invested in a business he didn't understand. The value of ad men to clients is in large part dependent on their ignorance of basic business realities. By shrugging off tedious considerations such as distribution and the cost of money, their advice on communications can demonstrate admirable purity. But this also means that they're totally unfit to make serious investment decisions.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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