On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

I’m working for a local agency of a big network. We’re struggling to build our creative reputation. The network keeps on foisting bad global clients on us and making us run their mediocre global creative. How can I rescue my agency’s reputation?

Once upon a time, advertising agencies were run by advertising people. Thanks to the commission system, they didn’t have to worry about money very much. As long as their clients kept spending money on buying advertising, 17.65 per cent of it (ask someone else, child) found its way into the agency’s bank account. There were no annual fee negotiations because there were no annual fees to be negotiated – and so no timesheets were kept. No-one knew if a client’s business was profitable or not; or, if so, by how much.

At the time, none of this seemed strange because it wasn’t. It was how things were. And one of the benign consequences of this happy-go-lucky existence was that agencies competed with each other not on price but on level of service. Bigger clients would enjoy experimental recipes from the home economics kitchens, qualitative research (group discussions), detailed marketing plans, sales conference staging and sometimes even pack designs – all for the price of the commission that they didn’t even notice having paid because they hadn’t.

It was inevitable that this state of affairs, as indefensible as monarchy, should first be challenged and then replaced by something far more businesslike. When my agency’s head office first discovered cost accountancy, timesheets swiftly revealed that two prestigious accounts were costing the agency money. Within months, service levels were severely curtailed and, within a year, both clients had left. Cost accountancy finds it difficult to put a value on a prestigious account and so none was assumed.

Next (and I’m slowly coming around to your question, I promise), an analysis of account profitability on a worldwide basis clearly demonstrated that multinational accounts were on average 20 per cent more profitable than accounts, however significant, held in only one country. Mercifully, our senior management, prodded into thought by warning rockets fired from the colonies, saw where this was heading and took no action as a result.

But a major competitor made the same analysis and thereafter concentrated its entire energies on multinational clients – and only multinational clients. Within a few years, most of its non-US offices had become barren outposts, as culturally sterile as duty-free shops. Local talent didn’t want to work there, local clients didn’t want to go there; and – a delicious, inevitable consequence – the regional honchos of their multinational clients began to complain bitterly to headquarters about their enforced agency alignments and demand the right to choose from an attractive corps of strong local competitors.

This story, though certainly tidied up, is essentially true. You won’t solve your problem by refusing to service bad global clients with pre-authorised mediocre creative work – but you might by getting your management’s wholehearted approval to investing time and talent into becoming a much-admired local agency. Your global clients will be delighted.

Should the models in ads targeted at men be older or younger than the audience?

I do hope I don’t sound too harsh when I say that your question exposes quite exceptional levels of ignorance. You clearly believe that people in advertisements are primarily there to serve as receptacles for what is called identification, as in: "As a C1, 25-30, working woman with two children under five myself, I immediately empathise with the person depicted in this advertisement and, in consequence, will be strongly predisposed to purchase the featured product." You really should know by now that it doesn’t work like that (even though the peddlers of pension schemes clearly think it does).

As with every other element in an ad, your casting of people should depend not on who your intended market is but on what values you want to be transferred to the brand. If you can remember that far back, you’ll know that After Eight was rarely bought by men in dinner jackets.

‘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, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE