Jeremy Bullmore
Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign Couch...with JB

Q: I just got back from holiday and have a huge amount of work to do. I can't snap back into work mode at all and wondered if you had any tricks I could use to get back into the swing of things.

A: It's true that fear can paralyse you - but it can also unblock brains. If there's nobody else to do it for you, you'll have to frighten yourself to death. Make a public, written commitment to deliver a specified piece of work by a specified time. Unless you're devoid of vanity, you'll do it. The fear of making a monumental fool of yourself will get those rusty wheels moving. And once you've done something that's almost good, you'll begin to recover the habit.

Q: We're in the unusual position of being on a recruitment drive and there's a lot of big-name talent out there. Is there an optimum number of big personalities to have at an agency before it gets too crowded?

A: Some big personalities behave like one of those trees that colonise the space in which they're planted. Their roots consume all available moisture and their leaves deny sunlight to all other aspirant vegetation. Only weeds can hope to survive. If that's the kind of big personality you have in mind for your agency, then the optimum number is one. On second thoughts, an even more optimum number is none.

A smallish agency may well benefit from one dominating personality. It will greatly help to get it started and will be just as successful in ensuring that it never gets much bigger. Good people will be reluctant to work in its shade and potential clients will want to meet it only out of curiosity.

There's plenty of room in a well-run agency for different respected spokespersons for different key disciplines. There should be a respected planning voice and a respected creative voice and a respected management voice; and one of the reasons they're respected is that it's clear from their behaviour that they all respect each other.

The only trouble is, once you've achieved that utopian aim, they'll probably all piss off and form a start-up.

Q: We're a medium-sized agency and are about to move into a new office. I've been given the task of co-ordinating the move and fitting out the new place. I want to do something special - so what would you have in the agency office of the future?

A: When a client asks you to redesign a pack, you don't start wondering what the packs of the future are going to look like. You do everything you can to understand this particular brand: what makes it different from its competitors, what it stands for, and how it could be even more appealing to customers, retailers and employees.

You've been given the responsibility of designing your agency's new pack - yet nobody's given you a brief. Make sure you get one. Nothing's more embarrassing than a digital office full of analogue people.

Once you understand your brand, you'll know instinctively what your reception should look like, what to put on the walls, and whether that centrepiece should be a Damien Hirst or an 18th-century grandfather clock.

If you don't understand your brand, I fear you'll be a medium-sized agency for a very long time.

Q: I have noticed a trend for creative agencies to establish the new role of CMO. Isn't this a bit OTT? Shouldn't agencies concentrate on building the brands of their clients rather than their own?

A: See above. Every year, agency planning directors go through agonising exercises attempting to find the optimum brand position for their agencies on a Boston Grid. The two scales are Creativity and Business Effectiveness. And after nine months of agonising, they conclude that the optimum spot is right in the middle of the top-right quadrant. What they ignore is what everybody else in the business already knows: that no agency (with the possible exception of Ted Bates 50 years ago) has successfully differentiated itself on functional grounds.

Agencies have personalities, whether cultivated or not, and that's how they're judged. David Ogilvy, quite consciously, used all his brand-building instincts and talent to build the brand Ogilvy. But then David Ogilvy knew a lot about advertising. I fear that most CMOs don't. They think that marketing is all about getting on shortlists, being seen on platforms, making a bit of a mark at Cannes and pitching.

I continue to think the only person qualified to market an agency is its CEO: and then only if he or she is an advertising person rather than an all-purpose executive.

"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 or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.