On the Campaign couch: How much distance do I maintain with my agency?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How much distance do I maintain with my agency?

I'm a chief marketing officer and my advertising agency has just moved into a fabulous new office.

They’ve offered me a desk sitting alongside the team who work on my business. I must admit I like being there more than in my headquarters. But should I be maintaining a healthy distance?
If you’re hoping I’ll reassure you that setting up camp in your agency’s offices is not only perfectly acceptable but will greatly facilitate communications and thus improve the quality and effectiveness of the agency’s work, then I’m afraid you’re about to become a deeply disappointed CMO. 

New MPs are given advice by their whips’ office. When wondering whether or not they should accept an invitation or a gift, they’re advised to imagine how they would feel if the fact of their acceptance were to be featured on the front page of the Daily Mail. Whips have found that such a test is infinitely simpler and more practical than the most comprehensive guide to members’ behaviour. 

Now try this. Your company has to take a decision against the interests of your agency: to fire them or to reduce their fee. Would your acceptance of their generous hospitality make such a decision in any way more uncomfortable? 

So already you’re compromised. 

Then what about the rest of your team? Presumably, your agency aren’t offering to house them all? And when differences of opinion arise, as they certainly will, whose side will you seem to be on?

And, finally, as if all that wasn’t more than enough, I assume you’d be telling your chief executive that, from now on, you plan to be located in the offices of one of your suppliers but can easily be reached by phone or e-mail? 

If this move is part of a staged plan on your part to join the agency permanently, then it makes a certain tacky sense. If it isn’t, you may well find that’s exactly what it turns out to be – but without the planning.

Do you think there was a golden age of advertising?
No. But the myth-makers have been so relentless and so consistent that I’ve lost all hope of ever disinterring the truth.

According to myth, about 40-something years ago, all advertising in this country was so urbane and so civilised that the great British public preferred it to the programmes. Hence the golden age.

This myth is based on about ten advertisements that appeared on just one medium: television. The commercials in question shared one characteristic: they won the approval of friends, relations, acquaintances and opinion-formers who normally felt advertising too questionable or too trivial to warrant their attention. They were judged exclusively on style rather than effect, though many of them worked well. They allowed people who knew nothing about advertising to say: "That’s what I call a good ad." And, for the first time, people who worked in advertising agencies could go to cocktail parties and admit to what they did for a living. No such admiration was expressed for ads in any other medium, nor for the other 95 per cent of commercials. It was just this tiny minority of beautifully crafted television ads that conferred not just respectability but even respect on advertising practitioners; most of whom, of course, had had nothing whatsoever to do with the commercials in question.

It wasn’t a golden age of advertising. It just felt like that to those of us in
the business. 

Dear Jeremy, I’m a marketer who has just been offered a job agency-side. The salary’s worse but the hours are shorter and the office is nicer. Any advice on whether to switch sides?
The hours, the money and the accommodation are irrelevant. Forget them. If they’re all wonderful and you make the wrong decision, they’ll simply remind you on a daily basis that you made the wrong decision.

This is all you need to know about yourself. Do you like to get your way by exercising your authority or by exercising your powers of advocacy and persuasion? If the former, stay exactly where you are. If the latter, jump ship.

That’s it, really.

Dear Jeremy, In or out? Which way will you be voting and what’s best for our industry?
I plan to dither and vacillate until 23 June and then vote "in".