On the Campaign couch: How to handle tacky Christmas decorations
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: How to handle tacky Christmas decorations

Every year, the receptionists in our agency get to sort out the office Christmas decorations and, every year, the result is a rather tasteless mess of tinsel and cheap baubles, which I feel doesn't do justice to the creative reputation we're trying to forge.

Should I intervene and insist we take a more elegant and creative approach?
Agency people have been known to claim that you can’t build brands without advertising. These are the same agency people who would die for Arsenal and who may mourn for Millwall. If you still meet people who think all this stuff about brands is just fancy adman talk, ask them which football club they support. Football clubs never advertise, at least in the conventional sense, and yet have the sharpest of brand personalities. And if you find it difficult to persuade people that a brand’s image is not an objective, universally accepted construct but is dependent on each individual’s conception of that brand, ask them if they believe Manchester City and Manchester United supporters have the same set of feelings about Manchester United and Manchester City.

Agencies, which seldom, if ever, advertise, are very similar to football clubs. Whether intentionally or not, at least within the relatively small village of marketing people, they accumulate a reputation; which is a more useful word than image or personality. Agency reputations are constructed from small and fragile touchpoints and brand encounters: known work, location, key personnel, momentum (new business going up or going down?), awards, size (David or Goliath?), independent or network?, ancient or modern? and, not least, to a hugely important minority of people, in both its physical and emotional senses, reception. 

The people who step into an agency are, by definition, among their most important target group: clients (existing and potential); staff (existing and potential); suppliers; journalists; intermediaries. When they step into an agency, either for the first time or on their 100th weekly visit, what do they see, how do they feel – and how are they received? 

Few of the brand encounters listed above are within an agency’s complete control. Reception is one of those few. Yet, apparently, in the past, despite hoping wistfully to be thought of as creative, you’ve allowed your reception to be decorated with a "tasteless mess of tinsel and cheap baubles".

Don’t blame your receptionists. The fault lies entirely with you. An agency CEO, by default, is its brand steward; if you don’t do it, or formally appoint someone of talent to do it on your behalf, it won’t get done.

You ask if you should "intervene". Of course you should bloody well intervene.

And don’t just insist that the decorations be more "elegant and creative"; insist that they both beautifully reflect, and contribute to, the unique personality of your agency. 

And if you’re not sure what that is, and if you don’t understand what I’ve been banging on about, then don’t expect clients to entrust you with their brands. 

I’m the chief of a small agency and I’ve just hired my first managing director to share the leadership workload, but I’m not entirely sure how to distinguish what he should be doing from what I should be doing. Any advice?
His first task should be to stop you hiring expensive people before knowing what you want them to do. His second might be to decide that a small agency doesn’t need both a CEO and a managing director. And his third might be to recommend which of the two of you should stay. This may not have been your best-ever executive move.

I’m planning to review my ad account and need to do it quickly. Should I be kind and wait until after Christmas before serving notice on my current agency?
What makes you think you’d be being kind? Unless they’re unusually dumb, they’ll have sensed that something’s amiss. They’ll be looking out for clues. They’ll have invited you for a Christmas lunch – not because they want 

to give you a Christmas lunch but because they want to study your response: do you excuse yourself unconvincingly or accept hypocritically?

There’s little worse for an agency than a prolonged period of half-hope. Please don’t extend it. The least unkind action you can take is to tell them today.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3QL