On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the most senior marketing director at the company I work for and have had, until now, complete control over our outward communications.

However, my boss has indicated that he should get final sign-off on every single piece of work submitted by our agencies. As he is very hard to get hold of at the best of times, this will severely delay our processes and make my job and our agencies' a hell of a lot worse. Shall I take a stand or take the hint and start looking for a new job?

A: You and your boss are both half right.

And in this case, two half rights make a whole wrong.

There are some CEOs whose companies' fortunes are based entirely on toothpaste or bubblegum or packets of crisps. But instead of being obsessively interested in the many millions of people who buy their toothpaste or bubblegum or potato crisps, these CEOs are interested only in the few thousands of people who may have some influence on their companies' share price.

So they mix exclusively with investment banks and analysts and city editors and other CEOs. They're not exactly ashamed of their toothpaste or bubblegum or potato crisps; it's just that toothpaste and bubblegum and potato crisps seem just a little bit, how shall I put this, juvenile - and hardly deserving of the valuable time of a top CEO who's much more at home dealing with other grown-ups such as investment bankers and city editors. To such CEOs, market capitalisation is the true measure of corporate virility: mine's bigger than yours.

With the exception of the Annual Report and Accounts, in which such CEOs take an obsessive interest, all other outward company communications are left for the Marketing Johnnies to look after.

Since most of these communications will feature potato crisps and bubblegum and toothpaste, they're clearly unworthy of the CEO's attention.

The Marketing Johnnies, of whom you seem to be one, are more than happy with this arrangement - but they shouldn't be.

CEOs who lose sight of where the money comes from are sooner or later going to be short of money. And every communication paid for by a company is going to have some effect, however immeasurable, on that company's reputation.

As the professional protester points out at the AGM, that acclaimed viral demonstrating 17 unorthodox uses for bubblegum doesn't chime all that comfortably with the company's up-front commitment to social responsibility. Mumsnet picks it up. Brand managers aren't paid to think of things like that. CEOs are.

So your CEO is right to want to keep a beady eye on his company's public face.

Where he's wrong is to insist on signing off every item.

And you are right to be appalled by his new insistence to sign off every item. Where you're wrong is to resist his involvement with communications on principle.

So you should neither take a stand nor call your favourite headhunter. Accept - indeed, welcome - your boss's new-found interest. Dramatise the logistical difficulties by itemising every single piece of work he would have been required to sign off over the past three months. Pin them on the board of a meeting room; or several meeting rooms, if necessary. Then present him with a workable solution.

Q: I'm a marketer thinking of signing off a new campaign using "real" members of our workforce. Can you think of a campaign in recent history for which this has really paid off?

A: The purpose of much advertising - including I suspect yours - is to attempt to differentiate a brand or a service that otherwise has no intrinsic differentiating feature. The problem with real members of your workforce is that they are exactly the same as the real members of everyone else's workforce. (If they're not, then of course you've already got your intrinsic differentiating feature. For confirmation, study airline advertising.) So all campaigns featuring members of a company's workforce confirm the impression that a) there's nothing very different about this company and b) it's not a very interesting company. This is not the fault of your workforce. Members of all workforces come across as being ordinary because that's exactly what they are. It takes artifice of the highest order to make ordinary people seem extraordinary.

Q: I'm an agency chief planning our client Christmas celebrations. What tone should I strike with budget and venue?

A: Confident restraint. Sensitive generosity. Optimistic realism. Creative reassurance.

- "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.

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