On the Campaign Couch...with JB
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch...with JB

Q: An intermediary keeps pressing me to put some of my senior people on a "How to pitch" course that he runs.

I've been managing to stall him but I'm now running out of excuses. The fact is that these courses will cost my agency a considerable amount of money. But I fear that if I refuse to pay, we won't make any major shortlists. I'm thinking of asking other agencies to join me in refusing to have anything to do with this kind of blackmail. Do you think I'll get any support - or am I being naive?

A: I think you're being unimaginative. And petty-minded. And in imminent danger of cutting off your nose to spite your face, whatever that deeply unpleasant expression might mean.

It's true that this intermediary stands to gain from enlisting your people. And it's true that he's well aware that you'll be well aware that there's an implicit quid pro quo behind all this; or, to be more accurate, an implicit suggestion that if the quid isn't delivered, the quo may never materialise. I'm afraid there's nothing new in all this. Every time a client invites you to contribute to their favourite charity or design a one-off birthday card for the chairman's wife, a bit of implicit quid pro quo is going on.

And, come to think of it, didn't you once suggest to a favoured TV production company that they might like to help you out with your annual internal staff presentation? They didn't expect to get a quo for their quid; but they fully understood that if the quid wasn't delivered, they might not enjoy quite as many quos as they'd enjoyed in the past.

It's unseemly, of course, for unspoken arrangements of this kind to be acknowledged out loud. Neither side needs to concede that they even exist - as indeed they don't. But a little bit of quid pro quo has always helped the world go round - and as long as luck isn't too greedily pushed, no great harm is done.

So of course you should agree to send one or two of your senior people on this "How to pitch" course. They'll almost certainly learn a lot - even if it's only how to avoid doing what every other agency is doing. And you should also make it quite clear to the intermediary, genially of course, that you regard this as an experimental investment; if it fails to deliver a return, if you fail to increase both your shortlist and conversion strike rates, you'll take the objective commercial decision and decide not to renew. (You might like to add that your sister agencies will be following this experiment with keen interest.)

He'll know exactly what kind of quo you'll be expecting. And you'll probably get it.

Q: The fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has offered money to Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, the star of MTV's Jersey Shore, to stop wearing its clothes in the show, fearing it is damaging the brand. Isn't this a bit ungrateful? After all, isn't all exposure good for a brand?

A: Based on your conviction that all exposure is good for a brand, you decide to mortgage your house, borrow heavily from your mother-in-law and launch your own communications company. It's called, imaginatively, Exposure Unlimited.

Naturally, you plan your launch publicity on the basis of the company's name, purpose and founding principle. So you arrange for 25 stark-naked convicted looters to wave Exposure Unlimited swastika flags at the television cameras the next time the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit an orphanage.

Within 24 hours, and for a total cost of £10,000, Exposure Unlimited will have achieved global media coverage estimated by experts to be worth a conservative £600 million: and every cent of it brand relevant.

Seizing the moment, and striking while the iron's hot, you then prepare speculative promotions for would-be clients. You start with Virgin, the Prudential and Children in Need.

To Virgin, you commit to procuring a slot for Sir Richard Branson on Celebrity Big Brother. To the Pru, you propose the appointment to a highly paid advisory position of Bernie Madoff. And to Children in Need, you recommend the foundation of the Children in Need Myra Hindley Reconciliation Trust.

Unusually for a media communications company, you will in every case be able to guarantee your clients a massive uptick in media exposure. None will have any grounds for complaint.

If your mother-in-law is going to lend money to anyone, she'd be a lot better off lending it to Abercrombie & Fitch than to you. It knows what it's doing and you don't.

"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.