Ask Bullmore: How can I better manage competing relationships?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

Ask Bullmore: How can I better manage competing relationships?

Agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore has some advice for the marketing director at a global brand.

Dear Jeremy, As the marketing director at a global brand, I am responsible for implementing global campaigns in the UK. As a franchisee business, I then have to get buy-in from franchisees, which inevitably brief their agencies differently. I think the global team view this as a failure on my part to sell their message to the franchisees. How can I better manage these competing relationships?

What you’ve neatly outlined here is the marketing equivalent of the 19th-century Schleswig-Holstein Question, of which Lord Palmerston remarked: "Only three people have ever really understood this business: the Prince Consort, who is dead; a German professor, who has gone mad; and I, who have forgotten everything about it."

It’s bad enough trying to get a single national franchisee to see the virtue of marketing materials approved by a central global team perched on top of a corporate building several thousand miles away – and even further away in their understanding of local conditions. But worse: your responsibility is the whole of the UK, where you might have been expected to have just the one franchisee but in fact appear to have several, each of which seems to have its own strategy and its own agency.

You must be tempted, like the German professor, just to give up and go mad. Please do not expect a simple solution from me.

First, double-check those franchise contracts. What do they say about centrally produced marketing materials? Are franchisees bound to accept them or do they have any licence?

If you can do a bit of legal enforcement, it will simplify your life – though, naturally, at the expense of what little remains of your popularity. But by far the most useful thing you can do – even if the most difficult – is to persuade your global team to devise an advertising campaign that follows what I shall call The Hamlet Formula.

There is the central theme – "Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet" – that is dictated and, on pain of death, inviolate; and then there are the expressions of that theme, which are infinite in their potential variety.

A campaign of this kind delivers what Schleswig-Holstein so sorely lacked: not a compromise but a solution that combines consistency of theme with freedom to exemplify. (Think also Specsavers, Carling Black Label and many others.)

So you don’t just permit your franchisees to make a creative contribution but you actively encourage them to do so: to invent and fine-tune original expressions to suit the characteristics of their particular territory, while insisting that they stick steadfastly to the global theme.

Dear Jeremy, I’ve heard the advice that managers should let their employees fail to get better. But I’m a perfectionist and also want to make sure we’re doing a good job – how do I let go and give them room to grow while still hitting our targets?

Some go further: you don’t just allow your employees to fail, you embolden them to do so and penalise them if they don’t.

As I think I’ve said before, I’ve never found failure in need of artificial inducement. In my experience, enough failures crop up spontaneously.

Your question implies that, by curtailing their freedom – by deliberately exercising your perfectionist stewardship – you will reduce, if not eliminate, the incidence of failure. You’re wrong. It’s true that you may avert some – but you will induce others.

Like weeds in a driveway, failures will always find their way through. The trick is not to avoid mistakes but to make cunning use of their aftermath. Some people are so ashamed to have been associated with failure that they become incapable of incisive thought or action. That’s when you tell them that you never trust anyone fully until they’ve lived through their first failure: so congratulations.

Dear Jeremy, My friend who works in another industry has had training in dealing with different personality types. Do you think it would help people in adland?

My guess is that it would be as disastrous as most attempts at "personalisation" turn out to be. I bet you don’t think that you belong to a personality type yourself and would be deeply affronted if some impertinent marketer assumed you did.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via or by tweeting @Campaignmag with the hashtag #AskBullmore.