CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Q: Woody Allen once said: "A relationship is like a shark - it has to move forward or it dies." In many ways this holds true for ad agencies - we have to keep our fingers on the pulse and tap into the nation's zeitgeist.

But in trying to predict the next big thing, isn't there a tendency to over-react? Digital media is a case in point - the internet; OK, so it's useful, but web banners: so what? And who needs interactive TV anyway?

Call me old-fashioned, but isn't it easier ordering a pizza over the phone?

A: I may have missed a few, but there are certainly three unresolved metaphors in your first two sentences. It's not that I object on grammatical grounds, you understand; it's just that a metaphor omelette is often evidence of a scrambled brain.

You ask: 'in trying to predict the next big thing, isn't there a tendency to over-react?' Yes, of course. There's also a tendency to under-react.

As the man so shrewdly put it: 'Making predictions is a hazardous business, particularly with regard to the future.' A retrospective study of the early works of that great futurologist Alvin Toffler presents ample supporting evidence for this statement. Very little manufacturing industry is based in outer space (a Toffling example of over-reaction); no mention at all is made of the effect of the internet on communications (a Toffling example of under-reaction).

Advertising agencies who scoffed that the internet would never replace network television were right. In deciding that they could therefore safely ignore the internet, they were culpably wrong.

About the future of media, you may be certain of three things. New media will continue to emerge. No new medium will prove to be best for everything.

No existing medium will be completely and irrevocably displaced.

To test these predictions, just tap into your shark's pulse; I think you'll find a strong zeitgeist.

Q: To keep costs low I'm keen on doing a contra deal with a barter agency to finance my business trips but I've heard all sorts of horror stories, such as I'll end up with a lock-up full of bras rather than the flights I'm after. Any advice on what to do in this, admittedly unlikely, event?

A: I've now read your question very carefully seven times and can still interpret it in only one way: you want to know what to do with a lock-up full of bras.

Though comprehensive in its scope, Campaign is a trade magazine primarily serving the advertising, marketing and media markets. I suggest you redirect your question to The Lingerie Newsletter & Women's Wear Journal (www.mcpetesez.com).

Having been in a number of senior client positions over the years I've had the good fortune to work with about six of the current top 20 agencies.

Why in almost every case when an agency is given a production budget do they insist on exceeding it and in cases present work that often doubles the budget given?

Two main reasons.

1. Television agencies are in thrall to their creative directors; who in turn believe that hurling production money at a meagre script will disguise the absence of an idea and seduce the socks off the next Cannes jury.

2. There is no incentive for your agency to come in on budget. The more of your money they spend, the happier their creative director and the richer they get.

In the absence of an incentive, you should not shrink from resorting to a deterrent. When faced with the challenge of splitting the atom on limited resources, Sir Ernest Rutherford memorably said: "We haven't any money so we've got to think." Give your agency a framed copy - then tell them in writing that, on pain of immediate dismissal, they must accept production budgets as absolute and immutable.

I can never understand why more clients don't behave more like clients.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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