On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Arif Haq writes: Dear Jeremy, Someone whose opinion I respect told me that, of the three types of organisation - the client, the agency and the production company - the agency is the least entrepreneurial. This is because the agency relies most on a 'brief-waiting' culture - nothing happens without a PO and a brief. Is he right? How do smaller agencies proactively spend time thinking about how to better support a client's business without...

Thanks, Arif. I’d never thought about this before, though I suppose I should have done. I wonder if your acquaintance is using the word entrepreneurial to mean inventive or innovative? I’ve always thought of entrepreneurs as individuals who took personal risks in the building of new enterprises – which may or may not bring client benefits. Anyway, I’m going to assume that what your question is asking is this: of the three types of organisation – client, agency and production company – which does most to advance the practice of marketing/advertising? (Very clumsy, that; apologies.)

If marketing is working properly, the most restlessly inventive organisation should always be the client. To make things that work better, that deliver greater competitive satisfactions, should always be the chief marketing officer’s first and driving passion. That’s as true for financial products as it is for cosmetics, confectionery, detergents, cars and holidays – but, sadly, it isn’t always so. Too many marketing case histories focus on the contribution of the communications; too few on the technical and functional. Too many marketing directors do the same.

I may be being a bit too dismissive, but it seems to me that production companies are too far down the line to have much fundamental influence. Yes, they can (and are often expected to) turn dross into gold; and they can, and do, develop new techniques; but they are still less likely to innovate than the agency.

It’s certainly true that the agency waits for the brief; but, in the long history of science and discovery, it has often been one specific "brief" that has been the stimulus for the discovery of some great fundamental principle.

(If, in about 250 BC, the tyrant Hiero hadn’t been given a fancy crown by his dodgy neighbour, and then challenged Archimedes to find out if it was pure gold or not, we would never have had his law of displacement.)

So I don’t think agencies necessarily need spare time to think up important new wheezes; I think most important new wheezes arrive as a by-product of responding brilliantly to specific briefs. And smaller agencies should be able to do that at least as well as the bigger ones.

But I do congratulate you on the concept of "a roomy retainer to bill against". In the age of procurement, who wouldn’t want one of those?

Can you please explain Tupe to me and tell me how is it going to affect me? Is it going to mean that, every time I change my agency, I’m going to have to work with the idiots who made me fire the previous agency in the first place?

You clearly haven’t been listening. I’ve explained all this at length at least once before. As almost everyone else knows perfectly well, Tupe stands for Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006. And you’re absolutely right. It means that every time you change agencies, you stand a real chance of ending up with the same bunch of no-hopers who prompted you to ditch them in the first place. Be prepared to control your expression when you walk into the meeting room at your new agency for the first time and there they all are.

It has been an extremely well-kept secret, but Tupe was in fact the child of a creative collaboration between the European Union Business Transfers Directive and the UK IPA. Under the guise of protecting the lowly workers of failing companies, Tupe was in reality designed to deter people like you from discarding agencies like old Kleenex.

Brilliantly, the IPA continues to preserve the myth by publicly lobbying hard to get Tupe modified or revoked.

It should be said that, to date, neither covert nor ostensible reason for Tupe’s existence seems to have had any discernible effect.

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