CLOSE-UP: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: It's the New Year and I'd like to kick-off with an uplifting message to those staff that escaped redundancy. Unfortunately we lost so much business last year we're now a mere shadow of our former self. Do you see any positive signs in the ad market that I could use in my morale-boosting speech?

The most positive point you can make about the market will leave your shell-shocked workers stoically unmotivated. Nevertheless, you might like to remind them that, as long as much of the world suffers from a glut of production, producers will be forced to compete for more than their natural share of consumption: and that means active, sustained presentation and publicity. I have absolutely no doubt that when business historians come to look at expenditure on marketing communications, in real terms, over the 100 years 1950-2050, they will be able to plot steady average growth.

As a morale-booster, however, this fact is seriously deficient in three respects.

Your people are unimpressed by averages. They do not sympathise with the statistician who drowned in a lake whose average depth was seven inches.

They want more now and you can't offer it to them.

Secondly, a steady average increase in marketing expenditure doesn't guarantee a steady average increase in advertising expenditure. I wonder if you've yet rumbled the fact that what you're selling isn't necessarily what the clients of the next 50 years are going to want to buy? (It's entirely possible that your staff are ahead of you on this one, which will only add to their discomfiture.)

Finally: your staff are not stupid. They will know their (your) agency currently occupies less than half of 1 per cent of the traditionally measured UK advertising market and what they will be wondering is this: Why can't their management (you) stop bleating about the state of the market as a whole and start improving their market share?

An excellent question, if I may say so - and one on which your uplifting New Year message should concentrate. But if you've nothing to offer but a surf-ride on an incoming tide, you'd be better advised to remain silent.

My chairman is knocking on a bit. In an effort to appear "with it" he wears colourful suits and bow ties. He fails to realise he looks like a children's entertainer. What should I do?

Interesting that you grant "with it" a pair of inverted commas. It strongly suggests that you aren't famously with it yourself.

You may also be dumb. A good children's entertainer can weave spells, tell stories, capture the imagination, simplify the complicated, turn myth into certainty and be remembered with affection forever. What more could a client look for in an agency chairman?

I haven't checked all this with Robin Wight, but I'm pretty sure he'd agree with me.

We are making our first commercial for a new client. He appears to know more about film than Ridley Scott. He is continually asking awkward questions about fps and whether we can sort it out in Flame and Harry. I have not got a clue what he is talking about. What should I do?

You must be careful not to confuse people who know a great many fragments of film jargon with people who know a great deal about film. You should therefore, with immediate effect, stop pretending you know what fps and Flame and Harry mean and ask your client to explain himself clearly. You might also like to mention, laughingly, that when you called Ridley on New Year's Day to congratulate him on his knighthood, you asked him to translate for you - and he didn't know what all those words meant either!

Happily for you, clients with an unhealthy interest in film-making very rapidly get found out by their managements - so he shouldn't be troubling you for much longer.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. Address your problems to him at campaign@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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