Q: The much-maligned London Underground is returning to serious advertising. At what point does a brand's reputation become so damaged that no amount of advertising can rescue it?

A: As the late and much lamented Dave Flower once said: "Advertising is worth doing when you've done something worth advertising."

This profound truth should be inscribed in pokerwork and installed as a screensaver on every marketing director's laptop.

On the evening of 28 August, it took me two-and-a-half hours to get from W1 to SW1. The London Underground took me past two closed stations, kept me entombed in a tunnel for 45 minutes and then announced that the rest of the network was shut. There was no explanation and no apology.

The failure of the system was almost certainly not the London Underground's fault. The failure to explain and apologise was.

British Rail, conscious of its deficiencies, once ran a campaign that diffidently claimed: "We're getting there." So when people didn't, they were unforgiving.

When experience confirms claim, advertising accelerates the repair of reputation. When experience negates claim, advertising compounds distrust.

Or as Flower put it: "Advertising is worth doing when you've done something worth advertising."

Q: I'm the boss of a middle-ranking agency with no creative reputation and little profile. Start-ups are winning the kind of business that used to be ours for the taking and I'm not sure if my succession management can improve our fortunes. I'm thinking of stripping it out and relaunching with a younger and hungrier team. Is this wise?

A: Every time Sellafield is mentioned in the media, we're reminded Sellafield was formerly known as Windscale. (So common is this practice that I'm still not absolutely certain that it isn't Windscale that was formerly known as Sellafield.)

Every time the jewellery company Signet is mentioned in the media, we're reminded that Signet was formerly known as Ratners. So 12 years after Ratners became Signet, Ratners remains the best-known name in jewellery.

I mention this just in case your contemplated relaunch includes what is inaccurately called rebranding.

If you change your agency name to GumDropZ, you may be sure that for the next 12 years, every time GumDropZ is mentioned in the media, we will be reminded that GumDropZ was formerly known as MiddleRankingAgencyWithNoCreativeReputation Ltd. This will ensure that GumDropZ perpetuates the profile you are so expensively attempting to shed.

So learn from history and engineer a reverse takeover. Nobody ever reminds us that Saatchi & Saatchi was formerly known as Garland Compton.

Q: My daughter has decided she wants to be an art director. She is talented but I fear that, with so few agency jobs available, she is condemned to years of creative placements and sponging off me. What advice would you give her - and me?

A: If you're in advertising yourself, it's obvious that nobody stopped you going into it; and furthermore, you seem to have done well enough out of it for you to be worth sponging off.

What you'd really like, I suppose, is for your daughter to become a futures trader, making uncountable numbers of euros a week while buying a converted grain mill near Nimes for you to use in your retirement. Who cares if she's happy?

You should be delighted that your daughter is talented and deeply relieved that she knows what she wants to do. Choosing to help a daughter get started is called supporting. It's what parents do. Only the mean-spirited would wait until she has to come to you and then call it sponging.

Q: I founded one of the coolest agencies of the 90s but I'm about to take a big job in a famously dull network. I'm going to be paid squillions. How can I show everybody that I haven't sold my soul?

A: Why not suggest they include your own name over the door?

- 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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