On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Dear Jeremy, As a regional network leader, I spend much of my time travelling in different time zones. As rewarding as meeting our talented people often is, I would be lying if I said it didn’t take its toll. What happened to the idea of technology cutting down on our need to travel?

Between World War I and World War II – and again immediately afterwards – the great American advertising agencies began to colonise Europe. They did so not because they were pioneering, risk-taking, entrepreneurial go-getters but because their biggest clients had said: "We’re opening up in Europe – and if you’re not there to help us, then we’ll find someone else who is."

So the great American agencies chose a very few extremely able men (they were all men) and put them and their families and furnishings on to transatlantic liners and waved them off to Southampton, saying: "Best of luck. Do let us know how you get on. We look forward to a progress report in about six months’ time, OK?"

About a week later, those exceptionally able men would land in foreign parts; and then set out to find houses to live in, schools for their children, premises for their agencies and local talent to staff them with.

Quite quickly, often within ten or 20 years, these American outposts were no longer American outposts but some of the best national agencies around; staffed almost entirely by local citizens; and servicing not just those international clients that had been the initial impetus for their existence but a great many local clients as well. And all because they’d been left largely alone – and trusted to get on with things.

As a regional network leader, don’t you think there might be a lesson or two here?

Rather than expect technology to take the place of personal contact (which it never will), why don’t you pretend that neither post-liner travel nor post-telephony technology exist? Tell your regional network leaders that, from now on, you plan to see them no more than once a year. The rest of the time you’re going to leave them largely alone and trust them to get on with things.

You will, of course, dismiss this idea as totally impractical; and, of course, you’ll be absolutely right. But before you chuck it out altogether, just think of the effect that the very suggestion could have on your regional lieutenants. The confident ones will first whoop with joy – and then take life very seriously indeed. And the others will take fright.

Which lot do you value the more?

If you want to cut down on your travel, it’s not more technology you need. It’s more trust.

How much of an issue is it that some ads entered in the big awards schemes have not run outside the confines of a creative department? Surely the craft involved in these so-called "scam" ads is often superior to those that reach millions of people when backed by a large media spend?

People seem to think that the mark of a great agency is its ability to create great work. It isn’t. The mark of a great agency is its ability to create great work that its clients are happy to pay for.

Clients are routinely accused of being too unimaginative, too cautious, too cowardly: of misguidedly turning down adventurous proposals. No doubt, some of them are and some of them do. But they also deserve credit. Every year, intelligent and knowledgeable clients prevent acres of infantile and irrelevant advertising from polluting the media landscape. But because, thank God, the rejected work never sees the light of day, we can all pretend it never existed.

A very long time ago, at the end of every year, I used to invite the creative department to re-present work that they felt had been unjustly rejected. Interestingly, only a little was ever put forward.

Like politics, the production of advertising is the art of the possible. To enter work for creative festivals that has never survived the scrutiny of a client is to play tennis without a net. It’s dishonest, it’s despicable and it penalises all the kosher stuff.

To be beaten by better work is just about bearable. To be beaten by cheats is not.

"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