I like the look of their work. But I'm also tempted by the fact that they'll charge me a lot less money than my agency. I know some big clients already buy work this way. Should I consider it?
A: One of agencies' collective failures is their failure to link what they do to their clients' profits. We talk about added value and differentiation and brand equity. We talk about integrated communications and creativity. And we talk about them all as though they were somehow ends in themselves. But, of course, while they're all perfectly respectable subjects, very desirable indeed and need to be understood and practised, they're all, without exception, intermediate objectives. They're all halfway stages on the way to the ultimate objective, which is for clients to make more money - or lose less - than they otherwise would have done. If only this ultimate function of (most) advertising was better understood and better trumpeted, marketing directors like you wouldn't have to worry so much about the cost of agencies. Get the right lot behind you - and even though they're twice as expensive as the ones down the road, your company will end up richer and your board will love you to bits. That long-gone and indefensible commission system had at least one huge advantage: because price was a given, clients could compare and evaluate agencies purely on delivery.
So by all means consider the option of a virtual online network of creatives from around the world working directly for you. But not, please, because they'll charge you less. Your board probably won't realise that by saving them a few thousand quid you've risked denying them a few million - but you may. And that should make you feel deeply uncomfortable. But there again, this virtual online network of creatives from around the world working directly for you could of course make your company extremely rich. Have they made their existing clients extremely rich?
Q: I'm the head of an agency whose name consists of the surname of each of the founding partners. All of the founders are long gone now; should I think about changing the name of the agency?
A: I'm sorry to have to tell you that both John Orr Young and Raymond Rubicam are dead. So, sadly and more recently, is David Mackenzie Ogilvy (you should read Ken Roman's excellent new biography David Ogilvy, The King Of Madison Avenue). So, for that matter, is James O McKinsey.
Assuming that the agency you head has earned some sort of reputation as a brand, why are you thinking of changing its brand name? Could it be that you'd quite like to see your own name up there on the shingle? I wonder what the world's drinkers would now be drinking if Guinness had changed its name every time it changed its CEO? For a year or two, we'd have had to ask for a pint of Ernest Saunders, please.
If you want your clients to believe that you've some understanding of brands, you'd better behave as if you did. On the other hand, if the reputation of your agency is so lamentable that its name is a handicap, then you need to do something about the product. But I bet you decide that improving the product is just too difficult so you carry on exactly as before but call it GumDropZ.
Q: How do we prevent more companies following Coca-Cola's footsteps and slashing the number of advertising agencies on their rosters in the current financial crisis?
A: Who's we? Is this some industry-driven initiative to see that the maximum number of agencies, irrespective of merit, share in at least some of the endangered spoils? It reminds me of a long-ago Labour Party proposal that all ad budgets, from all sources, should be deposited in some vast central fund; thereafter to be allocated by some vast central government-appointed body to individual media on the sole criterion of social value. Quite how social value was to be determined, like a lot of other aspects of this insane proposal, remained unclear; but it presumably meant that New Society, irrespective of relevance, would get a lot more advertising than Vogue.
If you were a confident agency, you'd relish the thought of agency roster consolidation, secure in the knowledge that you'll be on the receiving end. But you're obviously not. Lots of losers are praying for bail-outs at the moment. It would be sad if advertising agencies joined them.
Q: Why has copywriting become so uncool?
A: Because nobody's writing cool copy.
- Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP