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

Q: I still use a Filofax. In this Blackberry-obsessed world, does this make me a loser?

A: Funny you should still believe that people become winners and losers on the strength of accessories. Nothing new there, of course.

Copywriters once wore bow ties as evidence of their creative credentials.

Account executives used to sport fob watches dangling by a silver chain into the top pocket of their three-piece pinstripes. Those who didn't use their top pockets for watches used them for silk handkerchiefs, which tumbled down in artful abandon but were never used for nose-blowing. Even more mysteriously, account executives anxious to hint at an expensive education would stuff silk handkerchiefs up their sleeves.

Accessory-dependency is an unreliable route to success. Indeed, early adopters of the mobile telephone were almost all losers, so absurd did they appear - shouting "hullo, hullo, hullo" into a breeze block so unwieldy that they were obliged to clutch at it with both hands.

So if you're a loser, it's not because of your Filofax; sorry about that.

If you want to be a winner, by all means try a Blackberry; but the chances are you'll lose the few friends you have by replying to each e-mail within five seconds having given absolutely no constructive thought to the question posed.

Q: I am planning an IPO of my agency. For years, our press announcements have been characterised by airy hype, with famously over-optimistic figures ascribed to our wins. I'm aware that the City is actually going to take our announcements seriously now. How can we curb the natural optimism of our press statements without sacrificing our profile?

A: I like your use of language. When you talk affectionately about airy hype, famously over-optimistic figures and natural optimism, you mean lies. For years, your press releases have been little masterpieces of mendacity. But it's clear that such deceit has never troubled you on the grounds that it has deceived no-one. You may be right. I've always been intrigued by a phrase much favoured by those who complain about advertisements: "clearly misleading".

How can an advertisement mislead when it's clear to all that it means to do so?

So I think you're in the clear, too. Airy hype and famously optimistic figures have been part of your brand essence: signifying a young and enterprising culture, full of hope and energy, unencumbered by any pedestrian preoccupation with Sarbanes-Oxley. Your IPO should be a great success.

Thereafter, of course, you'll not only have potential clients to impress but also owners. By all means maintain the ebullience of your press releases - but from now on, you and your auditors would be wise to ensure that they bear a close resemblance to your actual performance. More difficult, I accept - but your shareholders will appreciate it.

Q: Lovemarks ... disruption ... 360-degree doo-dahs ... why do agencies find it necessary to proclaim to the world that they have a new and different way of tackling clients' marketing problems? Do any of these radical working methods last?

Agencies have always been in a bit of a fix about this. They scorn parity products and pride themselves on their ability to create clearly differentiated brand positions for their clients; yet consistently fail to do so for themselves. Despite this, distinguished agency names survive and prosper while most of their mystical methodologies come and go. The strangest exception to this general rule is Ted Bates. In the US, Bates created a USP for itself so powerful and so memorable that this proprietary nostrum turns out to have a far longer life than the parent company that gave birth to it. Spooky, really.

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.


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