Should I play up to the stereotype, focus on social media, seek out conference platform appearances, job-hop like crazy to get more money, blag some serious perks from a series of agencies, and then bail out to Petworth? Or should I sober up, do the short programme at London Business School and relaunch in Gieves?
When I first read your letter, I was about to adopt the same facetious style in my response. Then I thought again. Maybe you’d chosen that style as a typically English middle-class way of raising an extremely serious issue without sounding serious; so that when colleagues said "Come off it, Nigel. Have another drink and cool down!", you could always pretend it was a joke.
Then I thought yet again: even if that wasn’t your intention – even if you’d intended your letter to be essentially frivolous – the underlying subject was real enough and important enough to be taken entirely seriously. So that’s what I’m going to do.
The problem, of necessity, starts with brands. The best brands have hard bits and soft bits. A Ferrari goes from 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds: that’s the hard bit. Its multiple exhaust pipes emit an entirely unnecessary but utterly thrilling growl: that’s the soft bit. Fairy Liquid has more detergency power than its competitors: that’s the hard bit. It’s also the totally reliable friend of the family in whose care you could safely leave a three-year old: that’s the soft bit.
The hard bits and the soft bits are of equal value; but while you can prove the value of the hard bits with numbers, you mostly have to take the value of the soft bits on trust. It’s true that there is enough case-study data to prove beyond doubt that brands need soft bits, and that quite often it’s the soft bits that propel them to fame and fortune; but unlike the hard bits, the value of soft bits can’t be reduced to a single, simple metric.
A lot of company management is all about the allocation of finite resources. The production director and the human resources director apply for their share to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the financial director) with hard, demonstrable figures. The marketing director, the person entrusted by his company to create and maintain those all-important soft bits (and wearing his Ozwald Boateng), has only softer things to say. That’s why his colleagues call him the flower arranger.
It was bad enough before; but then, with a small explosion, a puff of smoke and a whiff of cordite, the Demon of Procurement burst upon the stage.
It must be wonderful to be procurement. You don’t have to understand brands or marketing; you don’t have to concern yourself with long-term consequences. You’re paid according to how much money you can save; and with so much money swilling about, a lot of it on soft stuff, there are easy pickings.
So I can quite understand a marketing director’s temptation. How much more agreeable to be feted by and fawned upon by agency schmoozers and conference organisers; imperceptibly redirecting one’s energy and talent from marketing the brand to marketing oneself.
Please don’t. Instead, make sure you’ve mastered the hard stuff as well: don’t leave all that to production and R&D. Being an evident master of the hard stuff will give you an immediate authority. Then acquire every bit of evidence that exists in the world about how brand communications (and only brand communications) contribute to brand profitability, both this year and the next… and the next. (The IPA is the best place to start.) And hone your advocacy skills. Denied the killer metrics, you’ll need passion, narrative, anecdote, humour, analogy and bloody-minded persistence: all qualities, come to think of it, that a top-flight marketing director should possess.
They may not know it, but your company has never needed you more. Don’t desert them.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP