Marketing directors should appreciate their agencies, discipline their agencies, reward their agencies, chastise their agencies and occasionally even love their agencies. But they should never, never join their agencies. Marketing directors who go native quickly forfeit the trust of their colleagues and the respect of their suppliers.
Cannes is no place for marketing directors who want to preserve some degree of white space between themselves and their agencies. You would either visibly disapprove of what you observed - in which case, your agency relationships would become tense and edgy. Or you would love every irresponsible second of it - in which case, your career would be doomed.
Take your pick: gatecrasher or gooseberry. And deeply unwelcome in either role.
Let your agencies have their moment in the sun. Some of them may even have deserved it. But leave them in no doubt that you expect to be presented with more distinguished advertising in the future.
Q: I am the chief executive of a small advertiser and I'm increasingly confused by my ad agency. When I appointed it it used to just make ads. Now it is making TV programmes, publishing music and designing clothes. Is this normal, or should I find myself a nice traditional agency that sticks to its chosen craft?
A: Has it yet occurred to you that you may not need advertising at all? Put this thought to your versatile if confusing agency: tell them you want next year's creative recommendations to remain within budget while excluding all conventional media advertising. That way, you'll soon find out whether any of their newly trumpeted skills hold any value for you. It will, in any event, be a mind-stretching exercise.
Q: Anonymous writes: After six years, my career as a copywriter has been spectacularly mediocre. After a promising start, I wound up at a well-known agency on a respectable salary in anticipation of great things. But there have been no gongs, no accolades, no positions of responsibility. Perhaps I'm not as good as I thought I was. How will I know?
A: Some people are like hay-boxes: they warm up very slowly and take a long time to cook. You may well be a hay-box.
Human hay-boxes are never spectacular but they enjoy several worthwhile advantages. They never peak too early, they never fall in love with their own inflated reputations and so they never end up on the discard pile at the age of thirty-three-and-three-quarters with an embittered soul and a million-pound mortgage.
If you're any good, you'll know how good you are. How much of your work is better than the rest of the work out there? If lots, hang on in there. If none, quit now.
Q: Should I care whether my ad agency wins awards for the work that they do for my products?
It shouldn't be the first thing you care about. A couple of heavy symbolic objects awarded to your agency by an international jury in Kuala Lumpur will be of little comfort to your board if they have just minuted a decision to close down a factory because of lack of demand. Under these circumstances, you would be unwise to draw their attention to this personal triumph of yours. But, for all their faults, what award schemes try to recognise is the extra return on your advertising investment that can be obtained, absolutely free, by the application of imagination.
If none of your competitors achieve recognition either, you can probably relax: you may operate in a sector roundly despised by image-conscious international jurists. But if others are recognised while you are not, you may be missing out on the single most valuable product an agency can provide.
- 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.