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

Q: We're a medium-sized agency with a male-dominated management team. Do you think the fact that we have no women in our agency at board-director level counts against us in pitches?

A: No. Your lamentable new-business record is due entirely to your inability to produce inventive, well-directed work.

You've probably been misled by one or two benignly hypocritical clients.

When faced with a longish shortlist, clients grasp at any objectively respectable reason to eliminate contenders. Rather than admitting to a personal distaste for the creative director's coiffure or the agency's proximity to Greenwich, they seize on some demonstrable irrelevance. "Pity they're so weak in Scandinavia," they say. Or: "Not a single sheila on their board. Odd, that."

So when they call with their disappointing news, those are the reasons they give you. And you will want to believe them: it helps a lot with the all-staff e-mail. "They loved our work," you lie. "If we'd only been stronger in Oslo ..."

The problem with your board is not that it's male; it's just not bright enough. Two formidably clever women would show up the rest of them to great effect.

Q: We've been shortlisted for a major global pitch. We already have a client in the sector, but will field our second-string agency for the new piece of business. The temptation is to use the wisdom and experience of our team working on our existing client to help us prepare for the pitch, though my promises of Chinese Walls would come to nothing. Am I being naive even to consider not using the experienced team?

A: I will return to the ethical dimension of your question in a moment.

First, the pragmatic.

The team least likely to win you this new piece of business is the team assigned to your existing piece of business. You say they will have wisdom and experience. Let me rephrase that.

They will have deeply entrenched attitudes, a history to defend, and misguided certainties about the characteristics of the market.

Your new, global prospect has become a prospect because they've finally lost patience with their existing agency: riddled as it is with deeply entrenched attitudes, a history to defend and misguided certainties about the market's characteristics.

Forget about morality: on the most mercenary of grounds, you would be insane to look for a blast of fresh air from the windowless quarters of your established team.

I make this point first because, in my experience, it's a great deal easier to be fiercely principled when it's clearly in one's material interest to be so.

However, I'm not going to let you off too lightly. Should it cross your mind to do something similar in the future, and when the pragmatic case is less clear, this is the course of action you contemplate:

An existing client pays you handsomely (well, pays you) to be on his side. You then instruct the team for whom he pays to invent marketing and creative strategies on behalf of his competitor. Having promised him you wouldn't. If that doesn't make you feel a touch queasy, I fear for your soul.

You would also, of course, be found out and publicly pilloried; but I'm getting pragmatic again.

Q: The outcome of our global pitch presents us with a real dilemma. Creatively, it's been no contest. One network has won it by a mile. The problem is that another has offered the kind of deal our procurement people find irresistible. We don't believe the network we'd like to appoint could match it. What should we do?

A: What, for God's sake, were you looking for? To echo Oscar, your procurement people clearly know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a director of WPP. He welcomes questions via campaign@ or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP. "Ask Jeremy", a collection of his Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone: (020) 8267 4683.


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