On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: What's the best "elevator pitch" for an agency you've ever heard?

A: Myth has it that the original elevator pitch for the 1988 movie was: "Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are Twins." It worked. But agencies aren't movies. A movie is a singular work. The good ones have an original idea expressed in an original style. Encapsulation is possible without distortion. Agencies are altogether more complicated. A more useful comparison would be with movie studios. Universal was the studio behind Twins - but I doubt if there's ever been a successful elevator pitch for Universal Studios. For Disney once, perhaps, and for Ealing - and today Pixar. But most studios, like almost all agencies, have no clear distinctive characteristics that lend themselves to accurate encapsulation. Both studios and agencies are judged primarily by their output and secondly by their principals. The bigger the agency (or studio), the more varied the output and the harder it becomes to sum them up.

I've encountered a few attempted elevator pitches for agencies and taken part in a few forlorn attempts to craft some - but it never works and it never will. Senior agency planners are often given the unenviable task of plotting their agency's brand positioning. Out comes the old Boston Matrix:

And to no-one's surprise, the planner, after six weeks and 72 PowerPoint slides, recommends that the agency positions itself in the top right-hand quartile. Job done.

If ever an elevator pitch for an agency were possible, it should be at the time of an agency's birth. But for Saatchi & Saatchi, in 1970, champion of clarity and simplicity, there was no elevator pitch to announce its arrival. Instead, it chose to take a long copy, full-page ad in The Sunday Times.

I suppose "Bernbach and Ogilvy go it alone" might have worked quite well.

Q: Is it true that agency people are divided into radiators and drains?

A: How easy it is to get out of touch: I expect I'm the only person in adland not to have heard this delightful distinction. I wonder what it means. Let me make a guess or two - and then you can let me know if I've got it right.

Despite the impossibility of distilling the nature of an agency (see above), agencies, like football clubs, have strong and tenacious brand characters. They can change their locations, their office interiors, their letter-heads, their logos, their client lists - and experience a 100 per cent turnover of personnel: and yet still retain some distinctive residual personality.

A friend of mine once left an agency to join another: it would be improper to name either but they were both well-established. He told me a month or two later of his principal shock. In his previous agency, he'd been used to his telephone calls being put through immediately, however senior the person he was calling. But it became instantly apparent that his new agency's name didn't carry the same weight; so he was asked the nature of his business; was put on hold; was asked to call back later. The telephone test is as good a measurement as any of an agency's brand strength.

People joining strong agencies have much in common with the brand extensions of strong brands: through their performance, they either confirm that strength and further enhance it or leech some of it away.

I hope that's the distinction that's meant between radiators and drains. If it isn't, it should be. Strong brands need regular infusions of radiators: people who radiate warmth, ideas, integrity; people who make strong brands even stronger. Drains do the opposite. Given the protective mantle of a well-respected agency, drains can survive for a surprisingly long time. But if they're allowed to, they will have an insidious debilitating effect. For strong brands to remain strong, they need to be not only dedicated to the recruitment and training of radiators but also to the ruthless disposal of drains.

Q: Former admen David Abraham and Adam Crozier have landed top broadcasting CEO jobs. Do you feel their background was a help or a hindrance in this achievement?

Admen are professional optimists. In return for their salaries, they supply hope: a commodity more urgently needed even than content.

- "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.