Close-Up: On the campaign couch ... with JB

Q: As the marketing director of a large FMCG client, I have a roster of top-quality agencies. Recently, each of them has set up a meeting to discuss something called "media neutrality". The advertising agency presented a consumer magazine; the media agency, an ad-funded TV programme; the direct agency, a TV ad; and the digital agency, an event sponsorship idea. Should I tell them to stick to their knitting? Or should I be encouraging this proactivity?

A: Not long ago, it was all so simple. Are you old enough to remember? You had only one agency and it was called a full-service agency even though it wasn't. It did brand planning and media planning and media buying and creative work and once a year it would present its recommendations in a big book immaculately produced on an IBM electric typewriter. It said:

"Because your brand is losing share or gaining share or holding share, media expenditure should exceed media inflation by 12 per cent. Eighty-three per cent of your media budget should be spent on television. There is a role for trade advertising in The Grocer. Appendix XII details recommended merchandising activity."

And that was that.

Advertising agencies recommended advertising. The bigger advertising agencies recommended television advertising. You didn't find this shocking; that's what you went to them for. In 20 years, you never had to make an important media decision; the only big decisions you had to make were creative decisions. Wasn't it wonderful?

Now you have at least four agencies, each so sensitive to the accusation of media favouritism that they choose to demonstrate expertise in every field other than their own. No wonder you're confused; so this is what to do.

Invite just one of your four agencies to undertake the role of brand communications strategist. Pay them to do it. Then invite all your agencies to put forward the strongest possible argument they can muster for their own specialist medium. Encourage not neutrality but fierce, partisan partiality.

Allocate your precious resources on the basis of these competitive blandishments - but only when you've seen creative executions able to deliver the airy promises. Work with your lead agency to eliminate mixed messages.

If you don't trust any of your agencies to be lead agency, hire a specialist.

Tell the others to stick to their knitting.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I used to think that the account-handling department ran not only my agency but also the advertising business as a whole. Nowadays we don't even seem to be able to run to a decent expense account. Should I have been a client instead?

A: As I may have mentioned, the great account-handler embodies all the skills of the great feature film producer: a consultant's understanding of the client's business; Olympian powers of persuasion; true affection for the worth and frailties of creative people - and an ability to blackmail and flatter them into great work, on time and within budget. Monastic selflessness also helps: any credit that's going should be redirected elsewhere.

Manage all this and you'll end up managing your agency. But the power of the chequebook means it will always be easier to be the client.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I've just read a news story that says half the people working in advertising are under 30. I'm a 23-year-old brand manager and was hoping to find wisdom among my agency partners to help me learn through the early years of my career. Any advice?

A: Insist on meeting the other half. Even in the most youth-obsessed of agencies, you'll find at least one wizened old sage of 42. They'll be so amazed you sought them out, they'll do anything for you.

- 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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