Q: I am a multinational, blue-chip advertiser and the agency I use has been mentioned in the same breath as "financial irregularities". If this proves to be justified, should I keep my business there?

A: I'm surprised you have the personal authority to change agencies. Most multinationals have agency alignment arrangements that can be modified only after minuted recommendations from the Global Communications & Strategy Committees in all three Operational Areas which are then subject to legal clearance in New York and final ratification from the Thirty-Ninth Floor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. No wonder multinational marketing people feel manacled to their agencies and long to exercise the whim and fancy so enjoyed by their national competitors - as delectably chronicled every week in Campaign.

However, you must wait and see. If the financial irregularities turn out to be both substantial and substantiated, you can certainly use this fact as the reason for firing your agency. If it all turns out to be empty rumour, you'll have to find another excuse.

Q: Us agencies are being caught in a double whammy. Not only are client budgets tight but their procurement people insist on screwing down our margins even further. Is there any more we can do to convince them that this is sheer lunacy?

A: The rise and rise of procurement people is this decade's hot topic. There's only one way to beat them, of course; which is to employ exactly the same actions and arguments that we daily recommend to our FMCG clients when they squeal about the supermarkets' abuse of buying power. Agencies, like toilet tissue, newspapers and neurosurgeons, have to be strong brands.

Think of your company as being positioned somewhere on a Scale of Importance - from pencils and paperclips at the far left to crisis management consultants and neurosurgeons on the far right. The precise position for each object or service is easily determined: just how readily does the chief executive agree to procurement's recommendation? On pencils and paperclips, immediately and unthinkingly: that's why they occupy the far left of the scale. But how does the chief executive respond when procurement recommends a cut-price neurosurgeon? Exactly: and that's why crisis management consultants and neurosurgeons occupy the far right of the scale.

You need to position yourself as far away as possible from the paperclips and as close as possible to the neurosurgeons. And you can do this, of course, only by building your brand; by demonstrating that you can generate ideas of priceless value to your clients; by establishing that mysterious thing called Authority. Authority, earned Authority, mesmerises chief executives and utterly defeats procurement officers. Without Authority, you're a commodity; and it's the inevitable destiny of commodities to get screwed.

Q: After four years in the business I'm absolutely knackered and don't see much of a future ahead. I'm thinking of travelling for a year and then seeing how the land lies when I get back. Would this be a smart move?

A: Let's fast-forward. You've been away and now you're back. You pick up the phone. "Hello," you say. "I'm back."

How does your potential employer respond? "Oh, wow, Nigel, that's the best news I've had in a year. We've got this fantastic opening for a senior account handler on a mega-million bit of business and I just know the client would love you. Money no object, obviously - what about Monday?"

If you use your year to do something that not only reinvigorates you but makes you of singular interest to some future employer, then going away could be a very smart move. But do please think ahead a bit.

- 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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