On the Campaign Couch ... with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Suddenly, lots of people are talking about "bought", "owned" and "earned" media, but is this news?

A: What they're talking about isn't news. What they're talking about has been around for 150 years or more. They've just invented a new way of describing it.

For a business that likes to nourish its reputation for fearless innovation, advertising has one serious drawback. Almost nothing fundamental changes. There are people with things and ideas to promote; there are people who might be interested in those things and ideas; and there are means of communication that not only allow the people who have the things to be in touch with the people who might be interested in the things but also allow the people who might be interested to be in touch back.

Over the years, some of the things and ideas change, some of the people who have them change and some of the means that allow them to talk to each other change. Nothing else does, much.

All this means that every generation of ad person, deeply frustrated by their inability to uncover anything truly new, is forced to fall back on re-naming the old.

In Edwardian days, agencies could confidently recommend their clients to spend money on a sampling campaign. In 2010, to recommend sampling would be to brand your agency as irredeemably out of touch. So what you do is invite your clients to a long PowerPoint presentation on the brand-building values of experiential marketing.

There have always been bought, owned and earned media. The earliest shopkeeper paid for the town crier; owned his shop window; and earned what his customers said about him when they met over a pint of porter at the local inn. Only the descriptors are new. They are also - unusually - to be applauded.

Most new names for old things obscure and obfuscate. Our world is full of impenetrable phrases for simple things. It took me 40 years to realise that there were only two kinds of advertising: advertising that people went looking for; and advertising that went looking for people. For 40 years, those stultifying terms "classified" and "display" had successfully concealed this from me.

Bought, earned and owned are three little everyday monosyllables that are genuinely helpful when thinking about the differing nature of, for example, Woman's Own, WOM and a website. They're very welcome.

Q: If all the pundits who say the end of the agency is nigh were laid end to end, where would they end up?

A: Read the pundits carefully and you'll find that they aren't, in fact, predicting the end of the agency; they're predicting that agencies will be superseded by other organisations that will do exactly what the best agencies have always done but which will be called something else. (See answer to question above.) It follows that if you laid all these pundits end to end, they'd end up where they began.

Q: My client has taken to ringing me at all hours of the night with burning questions about a campaign we're creating for them. I'm getting pretty sick of it, as is my family. How do I tell my client to back off without losing the account?

A: There are two possible reasons for your client's behaviour. They either have zero confidence in their own judgment and are totally reliant on yours; or they think you're completely feckless and can't be trusted on your own for more than an hour at a time.

Once you've understood this, your problem evaporates. Simply make it entirely clear, on pain of resignation, that from now on you're open for business during business hours only. If the first reason holds good, you'll ratchet up yet another point of respect and your hold on the account will be further strengthened. And if the second reason holds good, you'll simply lose the business a few weeks earlier than would have happened anyway. I look forward to hearing which way it goes.

Q: At my previous agency, we all used to go down the pub after work on a Friday and have a great time, but in my new one this just doesn't happen. How does an agency get to have its own "Carpenter's Arms"?

A: Don't rush anything, keep management well out of it, don't start having litmus paper meetings to gauge the consensus of the workers. If your new agency's any good, it will attract the sort of people who will, in an utterly leaderless way, somehow discover that they've adopted a pub. And if your new agency's not any good, you won't need a pub anyway.

- "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 campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.