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

Q: Morale at the agency I run is in danger of falling through the floor after two of our biggest clients announced global reviews in rapid succession. Client and network politics have played a major part in both decisions and the loss of either account would be devastating. How can I sustain our fighting spirit? A: I wish I could offer you something more helpful than great dollops of sympathy and a depressingly obvious reminder of some new realities.

The root cause of your predicament is, of course, encoded in your question.

You have been told that you "run" your agency. Your people think you run the agency. Yet it's clear that the power to acquire or retain significant parts of your client business is simply not within your personal control; and what's more, never will be again.

It's possible, of course, that you're using network politics and multinational alignment policies as a convenient excuse for your own failings: it has been known. But in your case, I don't think so. I think you've accepted a title and a job description that neither you nor your international management have openly acknowledged belong to an earlier age.

There can be nothing more dispiriting for you than the sight of those reproachful faces in the bar, slowly coming to terms with the fact that, although you're allegedly in charge, you seem to have curiously little influence over the winning or losing of great chunks of business.

Again, as you know, multinational and global assignments won't go away; nor should you want them to. Decisions will be made many thousands of miles away that will have a huge effect on your agency's morale. If you haven't yet come clean about this to your own troops, you should. Present it as realism, not defeatism. And above all, concentrate on everything you really do have a direct and powerful influence over; because there's still lots.

For multinational agencies to have a lasting hold on multinational accounts, they need to be more than efficient delivery systems. They have to be made up of very strong national agencies, well respected by national clients for their local sensitivities and creative capabilities.

A ludicrous question has been debated for at least 20 years now. Which is the more important: local business or international business? To quote myself from 1984, you might as well ask: which is the more important wheel on a bicycle?

If you can do a sensational local job, you'll attract good people, attract good local clients - and help your network attract and maintain those critical bits of global business that, with the best will in the world, will remain beyond your personal powers to control.

I warned you it was obvious stuff. Sorry. And lots of luck.

Q: Dear Jeremy, Whenever I visit my agency to view an ad, they insist on playing the soundtrack/jingle through the conference room sound system at a volume just bearable to the human ear. Why is this, when it so patently has nothing to do with how consumers consume the end result?

A: Have you put exactly this question to your agency, I wonder? I'd be interested in their answer. There's a respectable reason and a forgivable reason - but not, I think, a wholly professional reason.

It makes sense to present creative work to clients under perfect conditions: if you were played a radio commercial as if from a badly tuned tranny with a coat hanger aerial, you'd blame the commercial. That's the respectable reason. The forgivable one is this.

Client work (your work) is the only evidence that agencies have of their own abilities; it's their shop window, their catalogue, their calling card, their reason for existence. So forgivably, they always want their jewels to be beautifully set.

But you could still ask them to turn the volume down a bit.

- 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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