On the campaign couch...with JB

On the campaign couch...with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, someone told me that the mark of a good agency is one that delivers great work, not one that is able to win lots of new business. Surely it's both, or do you think it's just the first?

A: Come, come. Let's apply a little elementary thought here.

What do you suppose would eventually happen to an agency that won a great deal of new business but never delivered great work? Exactly.

Then take an agency that does deliver great work - and does so consistently: what effect do you think this would have on the agency's new-business record? (a) No effect? (b) A negative effect? (c) A positive effect? Exactly.

What do clients want for their money? Great work? Or the vicarious thrill that comes from knowing that their agency keeps acquiring other clients? Exactly.

Good work, in itself, has a direct and benign effect on business growth. Business growth, in itself, has no direct effect on the quality of the work. No more need be said.

This must be one of the dumber questions I've ever been presented with, but it does give me an excuse to sound off a bit about new business.

A long time ago, after many months of close involvement with a potential client and a great deal of speculative creative work, we were finally told we were to be awarded the business; and the business was easily the most coveted piece of business in the business: hugely rich in both opportunity and potential reward. It should have been a time for elation but, instead, I felt fearful and deflated. The senior client, a man of exceptional intelligence and wisdom, knew why. "You must feel like the new editor of Punch*," he said. "Everyone's going to say how much better it was before." And that helped enormously.

The acquisition of new business is, of course, important. But what agencies then do with that business is a great deal more important. The political equivalent is an election: victory is the single, blinkered objective. Power acquired: but for what purpose?

Do you remember the end of The Candidate? Robert Redford, as the Senator, is mobbed by his delirious supporters: he has won. Only the Senator is without joy.

Finally, he gets his campaign manager alone in a room.

"Marvin," the Senator says. "What do we do now?"

*Punch or "The London Charivari". A humorous magazine, 1841-2002

Q: Advertising trends seem to go in waves and this seems to be the era of the nostalgic vignette. How long do you think it'll be before the public wise up and get bored of it, and have you got any prediction on what will replace it?

A: It may look like nostalgia but I don't think it is. Nostalgia's a sort of homesickness - a yearning for the past. Reminding the world that a brand has a history, a back story, is quite a different matter. Back stories can add huge value to brands - and they don't have to reach back into ancient times. Apple already benefits greatly from the Steve Jobs' back story. Despite their being sold exclusively on function, Dyson products benefit greatly from the known existence of Sir James.

Origins, provenance, authenticity, a touch of humanity make most of us feel better about brands. At some level of consciousness, I'd rather buy a car from Ford than from something called General Motors.

So I don't think the public will ever get bored of back stories. But anyone who tries to divert attention from current inadequacy by conjuring up images of a more glorious past will entirely properly get the shortest of shrifts - whatever they may be.

I've no idea what trend will come next, but surely the underrated jingle must be due for a renaissance. All it needs is a name change.

Q: Dear Jeremy, the agency I work for has just been acquired. I am worried what this means for my job and whether I will fit into the new agency. How should I address this?

A: If you know your new owner to be vain and self-important; if he has a long history of promoting toadies and lickspittles; if the framed photograph on his desk is not of his wife and Labrador but of himself with George Osborne: then your strategy is clear. Flatter, praise, grovel, laugh at his jokes and bad-mouth his predecessor. Don't be scared of overdoing it - you can't. You'll be on the board by Christmas.

If he's none of the above (no woman would fit that description), just go on being extremely good at what you do.

"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