A: I don't understand. What do you expect your staff to take off when they're already taken everything off? Are you really up to running an agency in the middle of the worst advertising recession since the Boer War?
Q: We've got a person in our team who really hasn't lived up to the standards we expected when we first hired her. With a set of redundancies in the offing, she'd be one that I wouldn't be too disappointed to see depart. However, she's married to one of our most important clients. Would it be suicide to get rid of her?
A: As the wife of an important client, she's bound to be headhunted by at least one of your unprincipled competitors. When she comes to you with their latest offer, make sure that your counter offer is flattering enough to keep her happy but not so flattering as to keep her.
All you'll need to do then is keep the account.
Q: Our agency is having a tough time and we're being forced into making redundancies. Is it better to make a couple of them at the top of the company, or several at the bottom?
A: Forget about top and bottom for the moment and apply the "About Bloody Time" test. Despite their reputation, agency people are quite soft-centred. They don't like the idea of people being fired - until, that is, people have been. Their response will then fall into one of two categories: either "How Could You??!!"; or "About Bloody Time!"
Even the best-run company harbours people at all levels who are universally known to take out a lot and put back little. Their departure not only benefits the bottom line but is even better for staff morale than a day at the races.
You know who they are.
Q: Since new product development and brand identity agencies often invent brands, does this mean they're better placed than other sorts of agencies to manage them over time, including doing the brand's advertising and marketing communications?
A: The dominant characteristic of most new brands is the fact that they're new. But if that's all they've got going for them, they won't be around for long.
The best NPD (should be NBD) and brand identity companies build in competitive characteristics that will serve new brands well for ever.
Products have life-cycles, brands needn't. A perfectly conceived new brand, well managed, should be able to outlive its next 50 marketing directors (and that's still only about 60 years at the current turnover rate).
Stephen King and I coined the concept of "retrospective lead-time". For some new brands, newness is counter-productive.
Many expensive drinks benefit from being thought venerable: a new vodka may be OK and perhaps even a new scotch. But you'd need to be a suicidally confident challenger brand to have a go at Remy Martin VSOP. To benefit from retrospective lead time, a brand should behave as if it isn't new at all: "Didn't you know? I've been around for ages. Perhaps you've only just discovered me?" Within months of the launch of Mr Kipling cakes they were thought to have been around for as long as Bisto.
Who wants a new cake, for goodness' sake?
Many clients, foolishly, believe that a brand can be conceived and launched and then left to get on with it. ("Launch" is the giveaway: once a brand's safely in orbit, surely you can turn your attention to something else?) NBD and brand identity companies, frustratingly for them, are usually paid only to get brands off the launch pad. New brand development is thought of as a project, with a defined beginning and a defined end.
But if a brand is going to be a nice little earner for the next 100 years or so, its daily nurture is going to be even more important than its conception and christening.
Horticulture is a much better reference point than Cape Canaveral.
Good advertising agencies can be excellent brand horticulturalists. So, of course, can good marketing directors.
For both, the trick is to practise ever-vigilant continuity.
But continuity has many enemies, not least well-meaning and ambitious marketing executives. New brooms want to make their mark. That's why they've been hired. And they don't always take the time to absorb their brands' rich history. When new brooms sweep clean, they often throw out the baby at the same time.
- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4919.
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via email@example.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.