On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a group director at a media owner and the other day an agency sent my team an urgent pitch request that was to "bike over a media first by end of play".

We sent a breakthrough concept linking our platform with social media and word-of-mouth, but have heard nothing more, which has got up my nose. This agency often complains about clients making unreasonable demands of it and taking inordinate amounts of time to make decisions, so, next time, should I tell it to do-as-you-would-be-done-by and piss off, or would that just be water off a duck's back?

A: When you got that urgent request, the agency had just finished a four-hour final rehearsal for its next-day pitch and realised that it had absolutely nothing of interest to say and was taking five hours to say it. The pitch leader panicked. Urgent requests went out in all directions: to you and other media owners for media firsts; to freelance creatives for instant ideas; and to a celebrity presenter in the pitiful hope that her only slightly faded charisma might blind the prospective client to the echoing emptiness of the proposals.

It didn't.

The rewritten presentation over-ran by 73 minutes, the strategic analysis and the creative recommendations were obvious strangers to each other and the celebrity presenter smelt of gin.

Afterwards, nobody tried to put on a brave face. Everybody simply wanted to bury the memory. Much later in the pub, now terminally tarnished by association, your breakthrough social media concept became the prime suspect responsible for the entire fiasco.

Are you still surprised that you've heard nothing back?

These things happen. Similar things will happen to you. Strong and comradely bonds between companies are forged not at moments of triumph but when one or the other is hiding its face in hunched humiliation.

Do the big thing and invite the agency round for a drink.

Q: Our agency is more than 15 years old and when we launched we chose a vivid green as our house colour. We now find ourselves in a quandary as several of our clients are anything but environmentally friendly. Should we change our colour and risk losing a key part of our heritage and brand equity?

A: Oh, for God's sake. Green was green for thousands of years before it was hijacked by the environmentalists. It still has a perfectly acceptable life of its own. You may, of course, 15 years ago, have published your Founders' Charter. New agencies do; it's the only time they can. And you probably made a public commitment never to accept any client whose activities failed to meet the most stringent standards of socially responsible behaviour. And you probably boasted that, as testimony to this principled commitment, you had adopted green as your corporate colour.

Well, relax. You and your partners are the only people alive to remember all that; you are the only people to believe that you've acquired something called brand equity; and the only people still fooling themselves that the colour green is a widely recognised element of your brand heritage.

Agencies are brands - and wise brands try not to frighten the horses. If you deliberately wanted to remind the world of your failure to live up to your Charter, you could do worse than scrap the green and go for fuchsia. Otherwise, stick.

Q: Our senior executive assistant (Girl Friday in old money) has come back from holiday in Cancun with a silver metal barbell through her tongue. (She's often said that people say she looks a bit like Zara Phillips, the Queen's granddaughter and sportswoman, though she doesn't ride nor follow rugby.) Given she has quite a bit of senior client contact, should I ask her to remove it during office hours or do you think it might provide us with a bit of "street" credibility if she kept it in and flashed it when she's on reception?

A: Nobody who puts inverted commas round "street" will ever acquire "cred". In any case, "street cred" was what insecure agencies lusted after in the mid-80s. I expect you also put inverted commas round "with it"?

True style is never contrived. By the sound of it, you're quite a conventional agency; and there's nothing wrong with that. Your clients presumably feel quite at home: contented clients, like contented consumers, value familiarity. But if your Girl Friday, brazenly barbelled, suddenly starts sticking out her tongue at them, they might well feel confronted with familiarity of a rather less welcome kind.

"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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