Q: My clients keep spending all their money on expensive research
material and when it comes to making the ads there is hardly any left.
How can I change their priorities?
A: You will be familiar with the ancient insight that bad clients use
research as a drunk uses a lamp-post: more for support than
illumination. In this undoubted truth lies your only hope.
I'm prepared to bet that your clients are both multinational and
multi-layered. That the client you see on a daily basis reports to a
senior person in the Midlands who, in turn, reports to an even more
important person in Dusseldorf, who has to sign off the advertising
before it goes to the international marketing communications committee
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for final approval. After which, it has only
to be seen by the worldwide chairman and CEO who came up on the
marketing side and prides himself on his creative judgment.
The challenge for corporate structures of this kind is not, of course,
to get outstanding advertising; it is to get any advertising at all. If
you've ever thought it odd to see on your screen a badly dubbed cartoon
that first appeared in New Zealand in 1974, you now know why. It was the
only commercial available with a full complement of approval ticks to
Without the comfort of many million dollars' worth of research behind
it, no script can survive.
So what you must do is find a substitute for research which provides the
equivalent comfort at a fraction of the price. I suggest the appointment
of a guru. (You should allow the worldwide chairman and CEO to think of
An ideal guru will be the recently retired head of an internationally
renowned research company who is known both for his malleability and his
enthusiasm for ocean-racing. Between them, his head and his files
comprise such a formidable database that, for a retainer of no more than
a million dollars a year, his support for the proposed advertising can
be obtained at a tenth of the cost and in a hundredth of the time. You
congratulate the worldwide chairman and CEO on the brilliance of this
initiative. And then get close to the guru. Very, very close.
Q: My American parent company is a media Neanderthal and is starting to
insist that we adopt its conservative approach to media, allowing our
sister creative agency to take more control of shared client
relationships. Our UK independence was hard fought. What should we
A: Take your three biggest UK clients into your confidence. Draft a
letter for each of them to send to you. Take care to use different
styles and vocabularies and spread them over a month or so, but the
burden of all three should be the same. Each of these UK clients is
putting you on notice because of your increasingly unimaginative media
Each should imply that their direct competitors are being much better
served by agencies who clearly understand the subtleties, nuances and
idiosyncrasies of the UK media market, while you seem to believe that
Britain is no more than the 51st state. (You run no risk: all Brits need
to believe that they're more sophisticated than Americans since they
lose on almost every other measure. Your parent company will be miffed,
of course. But in the year 2001, pride will take second place to
Six months later, three ecstatic letters from your conspiring clients
lift their threats of dismissal and offer to recommend you to other
classy companies. Copy these to your parent company's CEO with a
covering letter praising his imagination and cultural flexibility.
Q: I didn't get into this year's Faces to Watch and my mum will be
terribly upset. What should I do?
A: Keep your mother informed on a weekly basis of all past Faces who
have subsequently been made redundant.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson, a director
of Guardian Media Group and of WPP. He writes a monthly column for
Management Today. A more serious look at problems in the workplace, it
both inspired and complements On the Campaign Couch.
Address your problems to him at Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Road, London
W6 7JP. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.