Q: I can't turn on my TV or pick up a paper at the moment without seeing Linda Barker. Dixons, Garnier, you name an ad and she's in it. Isn't advertising's love affair with B-list celebs getting completely out of hand?

A: You may not be the only person to have noticed the ubiquity of Ms Barker. But before you get too upset about it, please complete this multiple-choice question.

It is the year 2004. A plump and juicy ad account is up for review. It offers unusual creative opportunities and comes with a rock-solid £50 million budget. There are five agencies in the final. Of the five creative recommendations made, how many feature Ms Barker?

a) Five? b) One? c) None?

Exactly. Ms Barker's agent, possibly sensing a limited shelf life, has done too good a job. The difference between A-list celebs and C-list celebs (she'll be touched you elevated her to B-list status) is this:

A-list celebs are known for more than being known. C-list celebs are not. A-list celebs will always mean more than the products they endorse. C-list celebs will always mean less. A-list celebrity is durable, C-list celebrity is ephemeral.

Agencies work in concert, and will drop C-list celebs as abruptly as they first selected them - so your C-list problem is self-correcting.

Whether they leave stronger brands behind them is a question only brand owners can answer.

Q: Is it just me, or are clients treating agencies with more contempt than ever? More service for less money seems to be the order of the day and when the account gets reviewed the incumbent agency is often the last to know. As one of nature's gentlemen, what do you think?

A: Not for the first time, let me implore you to put yourself in your clients' shoes - to look at the world through your clients' eyes. What do you see?

You have only to deny to the trade press that you are contemplating a review for you to receive 43 solicitations from media and creative agencies by the following day. In their desperation for attention, many of these solicitations employ techniques better suited to a students' Rag Week: they bear all the style and professionalism of a whoopee cushion.

Your brief requires a full, global, strategic and creative review, with recommendations, to be delivered within four weeks. You offer no rejection fee and do not disguise the fact that you have invited 12 agencies to participate. Not one of those 12 declines your invitation.

Four weeks later, you benefit from a total of 36 hours of informed, experienced, intuitive, committed and inventive advice - for which you pay nothing.

Nobody complains.

Before you select the winner, you have meetings with the three finalists.

Your procurement officer suggests an annual fee equivalent to a 9 per cent commission rate. One of the three finalists then volunteers to work for 7 per cent - and you grant them the business.

If you were this client, you would have behaved entirely responsibly throughout and apparently in the best interests of your company. But what would the experience have done for your respect for agencies, I wonder?

Q: My big perk for working sweatshop hours in the service of my clients was that I always earned significantly more than they did. Now I find that's no longer the case. Is there anything I can do to persuade my boss to restore the differential?

A: Please re-read the answer immediately above. Agency people used to be paid more than client people not, as you so quaintly put it, to maintain a differential, but because agencies had earned the respect of their clients. So stop banging on like a shop steward; your boss has an even bigger problem than you have and would appreciate your help.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. He welcomes questions via campaign@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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