Close-up: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a newly appointed marketing director who wants to set a review in motion. The problem is that my company has a bad reputation among the ad community and it has only itself to blame. Not only have we treated agencies badly but have changed them more often than I change my underpants. How can I convince any half-decent agency to pitch for our account? A: If Mick Jagger asked ten ad agencies to compete for the chance to marry him, nine would say yes. Not because their minds were immobilised by such proximity to fame but because most ad agencies have a capacity for self-deception that borders on the mystical. However besmirched a reputation your company may possess, you'll find no shortage of agencies prepared to pitch for your business. They blame your company's serial infidelities not on the company itself but on its last five self- evidently inadequate paramours. In a triumph of autosuggestion over commonsense, they know that they, alone, can turn your company into a faithful and appreciative partner.

So your real problem is not how to attract the interest of a few half- decent agencies; it's to convince the world that things are different.

Which leads me to ask you this: if you're so utterly determined to change the reputation of your company from multiple adulterer to Steady Eddie, then why is your first move as the new marketing director to call an agency review?

The agency you inherited will be desperate to keep your business. Before they have a chance to demean themselves by showering you with social invitations, firing their perfectly adequate account handler and disowning their own strategy, tell them to cool it. Tell them they have at least six months without hint of threat or competition. They will respond with gratitude and manic commitment.

Do not give self-serving interviews to the trade press. Decline to view those competitive showreels kindly proffered by agency consultants. Do not even have lunch with that agency planner who helped you so much in your last job.

Where trust and good humour exist, an excellent client can get excellent work out of just about any agency. I can think of no more effective way for you to transform the reputation of your company than by remaining true to an agency that you didn't even propose to in the first place.

Q: I'm in utter despair over the attitude and behaviour of one of my creative teams. Our biggest client adores their work and I'm sure would review his account if he were deprived of their services. The trouble is, the team knows this. As a result, they've become boorish, arrogant, over-demanding, disruptive and a law unto themselves. I'd like to fire them but fear the consequences. What would you advise?

A: I'd advise patience: nerve-racking, soul-destroying, nail-biting, ego-sapping, bile-inducing, unremitting patience. Dim and distant it may be - but there is a light at the end of your tunnel, and it springs from an ancient advertising truth. No client has ever adored the same team's creative work for more than two years and seven months. Normally, of course, this immutable law causes you great grief. You do everything you can to challenge it. Yet the more you try to persuade your client that his fading enthusiasm is misplaced, the more implacable becomes his insistence on change. Remember this now, for it offers you hope.

So do not remonstrate with your creative team about their arrogance and boorishness. Admire it openly as ultimate evidence of their nuclear talent.

Express your slight surprise that the client accepts their work so readily; surely a client's first reaction to really great creative work should be terror? Talk about pushing envelopes, raising bars and fearlessness.

Your team will implode within the year. Just make sure you've got a better-mannered, equally talented team in the wings.

- 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 or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus