On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

How does one reconcile a lack of trust in advertising with the continuing effectiveness of advertisements?

There’s no reliable evidence that public trust in something called advertising has, in fact, seriously declined. But even if it has, it wouldn’t seriously diminish the effectiveness of any given advertisement.

Advertising is too vague and general a concept for people to get their heads around; you might as well ask them if they’ve lost their faith in packaging.

At a time when faith in just about everything else is being questioned – the NHS, the police, politicians, newspapers, the BBC, food standards, hospitals, banks – people are obviously going to declare a general decline in trust in things; but in real life, people have never trusted or distrusted advertising generically; they trust or distrust advertisements. Or, to be even more precise, they trust or distrust the company or the brand that is behind the advertisement.

If Findus ads are scrutinised with unusual attention for a month on two, it won’t be because of any loss of trust in advertising.

Are PR agencies eating ad agencies’ lunch? I ask this because, to my annoyance, our clients are increasingly involving them in the creative process. Also, that Scott’s seems to be full of the buggers these days.

A very long time ago, I was invited to dinner by two very senior members of the newspaper industry. I was a blinkered creative person and knew nothing about media. After an excellent dinner, one of them pushed back his chair, drew on his cigar and said: "So, Jeremy. Why don’t newspapers attract a greater proportion of total advertising expenditure?"

I was a blinkered creative person who knew nothing about media, so I had no choice but to resort to guile.

"In order to answer that question," I responded, "I think you first need to answer another: why do you think that newspapers deserve to attract a greater proportion of total advertising expenditure?"

There was silence, but a silence that spoke more powerfully than words; of admiration, gratitude and awe.

"That’s quite extraordinary," my host said, turning to his companion. "D’you know something, Nigel? I don’t think that’s a question we’ve ever asked ourselves, is it? Thank you, Jeremy. They told me I ought to sound out a creative johnny and by God they were right. Have another brandy."

You will, by now, have understood why I’ve chosen to disinter this ancient anecdote.

Rather than whimpering about the increasing influence of PR agencies, you should be asking yourself what PR agencies are offering your clients that you are not. And if you conclude that the only thing that PR agencies are offering your clients that you are not is lunch at Scott’s, I feel bound to tell you that your business prospects are bleak.

PR companies are better than you at looking at the whole picture. They understand not just the marketing scene, but the who’s who of celebrity chief executives. They understand the anxieties, ambitions, insecurities and vanities of top chaps – and even of those very few top lady chaps. They understand that, to such people, market capitalisation is a virility measure; that a high personal profile compensates them for the secret doubts they have about their own worthiness; that their inner thoughts about their high-profile competitors could be matched only by those of the managers of Premier League football teams.

PR companies are also better than you at understanding the City, City editors, financial analysts, the editors of diary columns, ministers and spads.

For these reasons, PR companies are better than you at gaining regular access to chief executives; you probably feel grateful to meet the chief marketing officer every six months. To a chief executive, the most important brand is not the brand that makes the most money but the corporate brand of which he is brand manager. PR companies understand that. You don’t.

Dear Jeremy, What’s your view on hamsters in the office?

I have no view about hamsters in the office. I do have a view about the sort of people who write to their trade periodical asking if they have a view about hamsters in the office.

"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