On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I run a mid-sized agency, and we've always been really successful when it comes to pitches. Lately, we've lost one pitch after the next and some of ourclients with them. At first I thought it was just a run of bad luck, but now I’m starting to feel I need to make some drastic changes. Shall I get some new people in and shake things up – or just hold tight, and see if things improve?

It’s funny, really. When an agency enjoys a long series of pitch successes, it rarely, in its internal e-mails and external releases, attributes such success purely to a run of good fortune. "Try as hard as we may, we can find no common factors linking these successive achievements so are forced to conclude that they have been dependent entirely on luck."

Yet that’s the way successive failures are often rationalised.

So of course you need to do things a bit differently but please beware of the word drastic. It’s only lately that you’ve lost momentum – so the market can’t have left you far behind. Try too hard and you will begin to look frantic.

Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t. Next pitch, don’t be desperate to win it; just be desperate to give the client the best possible recommendation. You’ll probably win it.

Dear Jeremy, One of our agencies has asked if the account manager on our business can do a two-month job swap with their counterpart brand manager. My immediate reaction was no way because I don’t want this person repping their agency 24/7 in our marketing department. But, on the other hand, he’s really cute. Should I refer and defer to HR?

How charming (and disarming) of you to volunteer the fact that your opinion of this suggestion might be influenced not by the principle of such an exchange but rather by the cuteness of the agency account manager in question. Most senior executives would like to think themselves above such considerations. How brave you must be. Or, alternatively, how silly. Carry on like this and you’ll give women marketing directors a bad name. (I’m assuming you’re female. If you’re not, most of the above still applies but even more so.)

Your subjective and personal slant on this question has led you to miss the real issue. Not only would the agency have a full-time spy in your marketing department but you’d also have a full-time spy in the agency. And you need to be confident that your apparently healthy agency relationship can survive such scrutiny.

I’ve long believed that the best long-term client/agency relationships depend on a degree of what a wise account director once called emotional hypocrisy. There is always going to be an element of abrasiveness in such a relationship; and if there isn’t, there should be.

There will be times when the agency drives the client distracted by its wilful disregard for deadlines, budgets and practicalities. There will be times when the client drives the agency distracted by its insistence on an original approach with a track record of effectiveness. Both sides need privacy: to sound off and to cool down.

It takes just one interloper from the opposite camp to turn such fleeting furies into permanent grounds for separation. Do you really want to know, verbatim, what the agency executive creative director said about your company – and about you personally? Your brand manager will have been present and will feel duty-bound to report it all back to you in detail. And no doubt will take a certain pleasure in doing so.

Meanwhile, the cutie from the agency will be all ears in your marketing department, particularly when you’re discussing not only his own agency but also the other agencies on your roster. Are you entirely happy that he reports back everything he’s heard? Because he’ll certainly feel he should.

A little bit of emotional hypocrisy, not as the foundation of a relationship but as a drop or two of 3-In-One oil to keep it running smoothly, is usually worth more than an annual review. And the fact that both sides are completely aware of its existence means it’s probably not hypocrisy at all, but rather a tacit and benign conspiracy.

However cute he may be, please don’t let him invade your space.

"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