A: Nothing kind about this offer as I'm sure you know. Your agency has just appointed a business development director. Rather than pour ever greater sums of money into the great black hole of new-business pitches, he has decided to major (his word) on growth from existing clients. Analysis reveals that the agency represents less than 20 per cent of your total marketing communications cake (his word). Hence their kind offer.
These motives, though commercial, are perfectly respectable. Inspect their offer with cautious interest but no down payment.
Q: I head the marketing department of one of the UK's top-performing FTSE 100 companies. When I took this job, my company employed a successful UK agency. Two years ago, however, this agency was taken over by an American holding company and I can't help but feel less like a partner and more like a cash cow. I also have a perhaps outdated resentment towards seeing the profits from my business flowing out of the UK. The quality of advertising has not suffered, yet, but I am itching to call a review. Am I being unreasonable?
A: I'm interested that you use the word partner. It's usually agencies who like to think of themselves as their clients' partners while clients prefer to think of their agencies as suppliers. The clients, of course, are right.
No business relationship in which all risk is carried by one party can sensibly be called a partnership. As a client, you are a principal. You can't be a principal and a partner simultaneously; it's like a mother simpering that she and her daughter are more like sisters. At the root of this fuzzy thinking is a kind of sentimentality - and you suffer from it.
You allowed yourself to get fond of your agency. Nothing wrong with that: but your fondness was based on something other than performance. You deluded yourself that yours was a relationship wholly dependent on personal affection and quite untainted by commercialism. And now, suddenly, you've been forced to face the fact that your agency is in business to make a profit - and you find that deeply troubling; as if they've said they don't love you any more. Your itch to call a review is an itch for revenge.
The quality of your advertising has not yet suffered - so nothing material has yet changed. You're paid to get good advertising: not to feel soppy about a bunch of amiable admen. So just keep going. If their work stays good, you might even begin to experience the first faint stirrings of affection again. Just watch it, that's all.
Q: As a marketing manager I regularly travel down to London to see my ad agency, who are always dressed so casually. Is it safe to give up my suit and tie when I attend these meetings, or will I lose my markers of authority if I do?
A: Your markers of authority? Here you are, a senior client, keeper of the corporate chequebook, holder of the right to hire and fire - a principal (see above). Yet you doubt your ability to hold your own in agency meetings without the cardboard confidence you derive from wearing a suit and tie.
But however sad this makes you seem, kindly resist the temptation to turn up next week in string vest, chinos and trainers. No marketing budget in the world would be big enough to protect you from terminal derision.
Just wear what you normally wear - and concentrate any changes you decide to make not on your outerwear but on your inner belief.
- 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.