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

Q: I'm the marketing director of a FTSE 100 company and there's a newspaper that just keeps on writing unflattering and damaging articles about my company. Should I try to ignore it in the name of press freedom, or pull all my ads from the paper and never spend a penny with them again?

A: You fail to tell me if these unflattering and damaging articles are true or not - so perhaps you believe the question's irrelevant? Perhaps you believe that all damaging articles about companies are examples of gross irresponsibility on the part of an envious Fourth Estate who should more properly be applauding the wealth creators, right or wrong, and protecting their chief executives from bruising comment? Perhaps you're a secret Enron sympathiser?

If these pieces are factually inaccurate, you should detail the inaccuracies in a letter to the editor. Some newspapers have readers' editors whose responsibility it is to examine such complaints and publish corrections and retractions whenever the evidence warrants. You might also ask to meet the leader writer who covers your sector: not to whine and whinge and bluster but to brief more fully.

If, on the other hand, these pieces are based firmly on fact, you should have a word with your chief executive and suggest that some minor modification of trading practice might be commercially prudent. (Refrain from putting the moral case; you'll only be branded a wimp and a woofter.)

The option of pulling all your ads should be adopted only if you are determined to condemn both your company and yourself to universal contempt and ultimate bankruptcy. In his book Editor, Max Hastings writes: "(Ernest) Saunders shared with Mohammed Fayed of Harrods a disagreeable conviction that he could browbeat newspapers into giving his affairs more sympathetic treatment, by threatening a withdrawal of advertising unless the paper adopted a more sympathetic attitude to his commercial antics."

This is one of the very few issues around which otherwise fiercely competitive editors will unite. It's possible I've heard of a more witless idea but I can't for the moment think of it.

Q: Why are ad agencies so bad at marketing themselves to potential clients? I'm fed up with the forests of dull brochures, ill thought-through cold calling and just plain embarrassing attempts to attract my attention.

I am a brand manager happy with his agency but keen to keep on top of what other agencies are doing ... just unwilling to torture myself by struggling with their ham-fisted efforts.

A: It beats me, too. Just as embarrassing as the examples you mention are the attempts of notoriously unimaginative agencies to demonstrate "creativity".

So they commission a branded pogostick, label it, Take a ride with us and you'll soon be ONE JUMP AHEAD of your competitors! and confidently expect you to award them your £10 million waste management account without further review.

In a public-spirited initiative, I plan to invite Campaign to extend their Turkey of the Week accolade to examples of agencies' self-promotion, candidate entries to be submitted by client companies, anonymously if necessary. Guilty agencies will be soon be shamed into relevance or welcome inactivity. Winner of Turkey of the Year will receive a life-size papier-mache turkey riding a pogostick for display in reception.

Q: I am a client about to review my agency. There's one shop I worked with at a previous company whom I just adore and I know they'd do a brilliant job. Should I hold a pitch and risk being accused of time-wasting nepotism if I appoint my former agency, or just give it to them and risk being accused of, erm, nepotism?

A: Agencies are fiercely opposed to clients awarding their accounts to agencies without competition only when the agency to which the client awards the account is not them. Square your colleagues; leave your favourite agency in absolutely no doubt what you expect; then award them your account.

- 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@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

Topics