Close-Up: On the Campaign Couch ... With JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, my client keeps using the agency as his personal domain. He uses secretaries to make his dinner reservations, get his theatre tickets and order his taxis. How might I suggest that he should carry some money on him in order to pay for these small services?

A: I understand the thrust of your complaint but am puzzled by the detail. Ordering taxis and reserving restaurant tables and theatre tickets involves little more than the cost of a local phone call. If this expenditure damages not only your pride but also your P&L, simply punch a slit in the top of an old cocoa tin, leave it on the desk in reception and invite your client to drop in a few coppers from time to time. A word of warning, however. While this may satisfy your sense of propriety, it will do little to advance your ambition of being seen as one of London's most stylish advertising agencies.

Q: Dear Jeremy, my agency seems to forget the vast profits it is making from my business. They make it very clear that they resent the fact that I sometimes ask them to run small errands for me when I am at their offices. How can I get it across to them that there are numerous other agencies who would be prepared to take over my account and do these small favours for me?

A: I note with interest your use of the first person singular possessive. Are you, perhaps, James Dyson? If not, neither the business nor the agency is yours - so kindly stop behaving as if they were.

Good agency/client relationships are wholly dependent on an unspoken but mutually understood contract of hypocrisy. Excellent clients know that to remind their suppliers of their subaltern status is both unseemly and unnecessary. Excellent clients sustain the pretence that their suppliers are partners; when the agency does what the agency is paid to do, they are generous with praise and gratitude. When the agency disappoints, the excellent client shakes the head sorrowfully and buys the first drink.

The client knows he holds the ace of spades. The client knows the agency knows he holds the ace of spades.

But in any civilised and profitable relationship, the existence of the ace of spades is never so much as acknowledged.

Agency hypocrisy requires them to behave as though serving the client were an honour and a pleasure for which they reluctantly charge only at the insistence of their parent company. When agencies do small personal favours for clients, they do so voluntarily, moved not by the prospect of commercial advantage but by affection. To reveal resentment would be to expose the crude anatomy of their relationship.

And, of course, the wonderful thing about both these hypocrisies is that, in the very best of relationships, they are hardly hypocrisies at all.

I hope you now realise that you've asked the wrong question. Q: I notice that an agency which has binned the name of one of its former principals won't let him put it on the door of his start-up. Is there any justification for such a dog-in-the-manger attitude?

A: As I expect you've also noticed, it's only the use of the person's family name that's been proscribed. In these informal days, that leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre - and indeed encourages a certain open-necked approachability.

GumDropz remains unclaimed, as do Peter Pan & Wendy, Rough Trade and Mildew (an agency specialising in the grey market). M&C was only the beginning. Expect first names to flourish. If it hadn't already been adopted by a brand of ice-cream, I'm told we might well have witnessed the multimedia launch of Ben and Jerry.

The other thing about start-ups, of course, is that sometimes they don't.

- 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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