Campaign Annual 2007: Top 10 Bullmores

1. A concerned citizen writes: I read that Slentrol, Pfizer's newly approved US slimming pill for dogs, could soon be available in the UK and that this is being welcomed. Apparently, 40 per cent of our dogs are overweight, and 81 per cent of British vets consider obesity to be their biggest health threat.

But surely they're missing the point? Shouldn't Ofcom ban the advertising of pet food? This would stop their owners buying too much food for them, eliminate pooch pester power, and thus solve the problem at a stroke.

2. I've just had to bail one of my creatives out of jail after he was caught covering a train in graffiti. It isn't the first time he's pulled a stunt like this. Trouble is, his work is brilliant and I don't want to lose him. Where should I draw the line when it comes to employing a criminal?

Most of us agency ancient mariners spend a great deal of time mourning the tragic absence these days of real characters. We reminisce fondly of the time when Michael Johnson took off his trousers in the lift he was sharing with a potential client and when Llewelyn Thomas buried all the prizes in a Gillette promotion on Camber Sands, but later couldn't remember where. Those were the days, we sigh.

That's what made the business such fun - and that's why the work was so good. Only original people can produce original advertising: but where are they now? Even the clients appreciated mingling with these characters: they didn't have any of their own back in Loughborough and it gave them something to talk about at the golf club.

So count yourself lucky. You've got one of the few genuine contemporary characters - and he's brilliant. When he stops being brilliant, you'll have to think again. But for the time being, resign yourself to plodding down to the station from time to time. It's called management.

3. I'm 43 and have been doing my creative director job happily for seven years with a fair few lion- and pencil-shaped pieces of evidence that prove I'm good. But I'm getting bored and a digital agency is making me a tempting offer to quit the mainstream ad industry to make virals, etc. Is it beneath me to accept their offer?

Thank you for this very timely question. Through cunning detective work, I identified the CEO of the digital agency in question and e-mailed him as follows.

"Dear Fergus, you're mad. Here is the creative director of an old-fashioned agency who, at only 43, is bored by advertising; who rates his achievements on the single measurement of creative awards; and who has no idea what you do, hasn't stirred himself to find out, yet nonetheless knows it's beneath him. This is a man (I just know it's a man) who's so out of touch with the real world that he still believes his narrow and anachronistic craft to be mainstream. Why are you offering this self-satisfied dunce more money than you're paying yourself?"

He replied as follows.

"Dear Jeremy, thank you for your unsought advice. What makes you think I needed it? As you surely recognise, it's all about brand positioning, credibility and the battle for the centre ground. Traditional agencies flounder when they try to do digital. They hire a few nerds and then bury them. Or they claim to do digital with their existing elitists, then fail to deliver. Traditional agencies will never hire or acquire digital credibility. They'll never crack their addiction to The Reel. Digital agencies, on the other hand, have two overwhelming advantages. They represent The Future. And clients are so mindlessly convinced that they need some that they haven't yet started to ask any of those awkward questions about accountability. To occupy the centre ground, all digital agencies have to do is take on a few over-paid and over-rated traditionalists. Their contribution, naturally, will be more to our image than to our output. And, we shan't need them for very long."

I do hope that this cordial exchange helps you determine your future.

4. A former account director asks: I was poached from my former agency to be the new marketing director on the account I formerly ran. The work we produced was never brilliant and, now I'm client-side, I'm beginning to think of reviewing the relationship. Is there any way of doing this without appearing to be stabbing my former colleagues in the back?


5. From an agency creative: What do clients think of awards? Do they rate creative accolades or are they only interested in effectiveness awards?

Clients put no value whatsoever on creative awards. I know that because they've told me so. (But they can't help wondering why it is that their own agency never seems to win any.)

Effectiveness awards, on the other hand, are altogether good: but they, of course, are simply a testament to the client's marketing excellence.

6. An agency chief executive writes: My planners seem to spend as much time blogging as they do planning. Should I have a quiet word about what seems to be turning into an addiction in strategic circles?

No, not a quiet word: a very loud word. And lots of them. Of all the agency skills, planning depends most on rigour, accuracy and precision.

Blogging tolerates their opposites. You can get away with sloppiness, guesswork and unconfirmed memory in a blog; and lots of bloggers do.

Their defence: others will post additions and corrections so it'll all sort itself out in the end. That won't wash when trying to identify precisely what a client should be hoping to achieve with his 12 million bananas.

7. Should agencies compensate for their role in creating unnecessary demand (and therefore fuelling environmentally unfriendly consumerism) by planting more trees?

Where to start? First, examine your own life and what you mean by unnecessary. The only survival needs you have are physiological: food, water, and sleep. The moment you drink tea rather than water, you've strayed from the necessary to the unnecessary. There's universal agreement, however, that a human life begins to take on some semblance of fulfilment only when non-survival needs begin to be met and enjoyed. Once the necessary needs have been met, human happiness depends on the unnecessary.

So unnecessary demand is necessary - not least because the impossibility of deciding what is and what isn't necessary has already brought great centralist regimes to their knees - and mercifully always will. You should be delighted to be part of a trade that dangles an infinite number of tantalising goodies in front of relatively affluent individuals and lets the magic of the market do the rest. If you want to get serious, think about unnecessary waste.

8. An account director writes: I'm torn between two jobs at two rival agencies and can't seem to make up my mind. The responsibilities, remuneration and benefits for each job are almost identical. I get on with all those staff I've met at both agencies, and both offer brilliant accounts upon which to work. Short of tossing a coin, I can't decide where to go. I appreciate this is a good dilemma in which to find oneself, but any ideas as to how to extricate myself from it?

Take a good friend out to lunch. It should be someone in the same line of business as you and someone that you not only like but also respect professionally. Explain your dilemma and intimate you'd be more than happy to recommend your friend for the job you finally decide to decline. Then, in the greatest possible detail, analyse the competing attractions of the two agencies. After a couple of hours, ask your friend, honestly, all other things being equal, which of these two highly attractive job offers they think you should accept.

Despite being your friend, and an honourable person, it will be his or her inevitable instinct to recommend you to go for the job which he or she rates as the slightly less attractive. You'll now know exactly what to do.

Don't feel guilty. Life being life, you'll still regret not having taken the other one and will be deeply envious of your friend for the rest of time.

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

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.

10. What do you reckon? Christmas bonus or Christmas bash?

You can still do a respectable Christmas bash for 100 quid a head. I don't for the life of me see how you could do a respectable Christmas bonus for 100 quid a head.

Some of your most prized employees, one or two of them almost as valuable as they think they are, will be expecting at least three noughts after the first two digits. If your average bonus is going to be 100 quid, that means about 37p for a great many of those people without whom your agency would simply stop.

"Dear Gideon, as you will know it's been a challenging year, but I am delighted to say that the agency has as ever proved itself to be deeply resourceful in the teeth of ever intensifying competition and I look forward to the future with undiminished confidence. As a concrete expression of our gratitude to you for your great contribution over the past year, it gives me great pleasure to enclose a postal order for £2.78p. May I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a joyous and fun-filled holiday break?"

It's not unprecedented for managements to spend quite a lot of money with the net effect of demotivating almost everybody, but it continues to be pretty silly.

Just remember that the definition of a bonus is "something in addition to what is expected or strictly due". The phrase "guaranteed bonus" is a contradiction in terms and an abomination. Also remember there is a fundamental difference between a bash and a bonus. With the application of wit and imagination, a low-budget bash can be quite fantastic and inspire great gratitude. The same cannot be said for a low-budget bonus.

So do not see them as alternatives. Use your tiny bonus budget with reckless selectivity. And put your best brains to work on the bash. When pitching to clients, it's what we call added value.