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

Q: Dear Jeremy, I work in an agency traffic department. One top agency has just closed its traffic department down. Could this be a new fashion and how important do you think traffic departments are to producing great advertising? A: Please be patient if I make what will strike you as a tediously semantic distinction. What are crucial to agencies - and to agencies' clients - are not departments but functions. Somebody has to write the ads; in order to write the ads, somebody has to plan the strategy; once the ads have been written, somebody has to get them to the media. And so on. Some agencies do perfectly well without a planning department, but no agency does without planning.

The point of a department is to provide each of those necessary functions with clear responsibility, high standards, specific training and pride.

This is true for account management, creative, planning - and traffic.

To eliminate the traffic department is not, of course, to eliminate the traffic function; it's simply to ask others to fulfil it. Yet for agencies to operate efficiently, traffic people have to be as well-selected, well-trained and well-motivated as those from any other skill; it's not a function that graduate trainees can fit in between booking meeting rooms and popping out to Starbucks.

Some of the wiliest, wisest, most valuable agency people I've known have been battle-scarred traffic people. Great traffic departments may not contribute directly to great advertising but they certainly do to great agencies.

Q: As an account man, I have become increasingly interested in the client side of things and would love to give the job on the other side of the fence a go. How do agencies feel about the move to the "dark side" and, if I didn't like it, do you think that I could switch back?

A: Agency people often have an entirely romantic idea of the life of a client. They believe that the bit they see is the whole bit. They see the client in London, being taken to lunch; being treated with deference as he flicks dismissively through a dozen new poster ideas; being consulted respectfully about the economy by the agency CEO. And agency people think: I wouldn't mind a slice of that.

So before you leap, just make sure you acquaint yourself with the other bit; the bit you don't see. The spreadsheets, the factory canteen, the margin targets, the budget battles, the ritual humiliation at the hands of the new marketing director, the contempt shown you by the production director. The bloody numbers.

If all that fails to deter you, then by all means give it a go. Should you ever return, you'll be a much better agency person as a result. But the respect accorded to clients can be addictive. You may not find it easy to return to a world where people laugh at your jokes only when they're funny.

Q: Reading the trade press, I keep stumbling on stories of agencies who claim that their idea of agency "integration" is the first and the most innovative of its kind. They can't all be different can they and, if they are, how do I decide which is the best mix for my brand?

A: What's so comical about these claims for integration is that they come from companies who were among the first to disintegrate.

To understand integration at its best, visit those agencies, those regions, those far-flung nations who are so backward that they have yet to fragment into specialised splinters. To them, integration is an unnecessary word; it's what they do instinctively, because it's common sense - and because they never got so hotsy about any one particular medium that they forgot the existence of the rest, let alone how to use them creatively.

- 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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