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

On The Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q. We're in the midst of our grad recruitment and there are many more people turning up than usual called Rupert with floppy hair.

I thought our lot would hate this but they've come over all Downton on me. How can I stop them trying to recreate the JWT de nos jours?

A. Given that it's been around for 100 years or so, I suppose there must have been quite a few Ruperts at JWT London - but I can't remember any. Rupert Howell never worked there - a pity, really - but even he isn't particularly floppy-haired. When I joined, the chairman and managing director were called Doug and Bill respectively. (Well, OK: Douglas. But Bill was definitely never William.)

It wasn't the Ruperts, Julians and Lucindas who earned JWT its reputation as much as the double-barrellers. There weren't that many, and by no means all were old Etonians, but they were curiously able and rose to the top on merit. When one double-barrel succeeded another as chief executive, the agency village sighed with relief. There's nothing more welcome than having one's misconceptions corroborated; it relieves one from the painful business of re-examining one's prejudices.

Harry, Lord Tennyson, was our single home-grown hereditary peer. Clients liked him very much. Henry Bentinck, the TV producer on Nimble and Mr Kipling, was only Count (Graf) Bentinck und Waldeck Limpurg at the time and it wasn't until much later that he successfully claimed the title of 11th Earl of Portland. It's true that two of our number had been at Gordonstoun with Prince Philip and invited him to lunch in the agency: but it was still a bit of a puzzle to us that we had such an upmarket reputation. As we liked to remind people: it was true that we had five MPs on our staff, but only four of them were Tories. Alf Dubs (later, of course, Lord Dubs) was our Labour Party representative. And John Rodgers, the deputy chairman (later, of course, Sir John Rodgers, Bt), was obliged to leave the company when he became a minister. He soon came back.

What continues to baffle ad historians is that, despite being run by nobs and snobs and being totally out of touch with the real world, JWT London was easily the country's most successful FMCG agency. With a more down-to-earth reputation, Lord only knows what we might have achieved.

So you see, even if you set out quite deliberately to recreate the JWT de nos jours, you'd have to do more than hire a brace of Ruperts. I think you're safe enough.

Q. Do you agree with the statement that the advertising effectiveness of the traditional mediums - print, radio, TV and outdoor - are in general decline? (The statement comes courtesy of Jon Thomas at www.postadvertising.com.)

A. What's undoubtedly in decline is a basic grasp of English. After years of using the word media as if it were a singular noun, you finally had an opportunity to use it correctly; and, instead, you blew it and invented the ugly and unnecessary mediums. Dear oh dear. Young people these days. Whatever next. Where will it end? I sometimes ask myself. Excellent question, I reply. Where indeed?

I notice that it's not the demand for these media that's alleged to be in decline but their effectiveness. As has been known since Noah, a medium on its own can do absolutely nothing. A 30-second spot with no content or a blank 48-sheet poster are unlikely to deliver an acceptable rate of ROI.

The effectiveness of a medium is almost wholly dependent on the use to which it is put: the words, sounds and images carried. And the use to which it is put is in the hands of human beings. So if a medium isn't working, blaming the medium is like shooting the messenger.

If a medium reaches the audience you want to reach, and if the price is right, it will continue to be effective if you use it well. And if you use it extremely well, it will be extremely effective.

Q Does an agency have to be an obsessive user of social media on its own account in order to demonstrate its digital savvy and abilities to clients? My marketing director seems to think so and keeps seeing creds presentations from two-bit hole-in-the-wall companies but won't give our big network agencies the time of day.

You need to know enough about social media, at first hand, to be able to cut through the crap. You need to know what they can give you - including nightmares - and what they can't. Obsessive users (of anything) are, by definition, unsavvy.

"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