Media: Russell Davies

I always thought "account handler" was a rather revealing term. There aren't many other things that get handlers. Circus animals do. And B-list celebrities.

But not much else, just "accounts" in advertising agencies. And it seems to sum up some of the seediest cliches of the business. You sense someone who's "handling" an account is not really there to serve the needs of the client organisation, they're there to persuade it to spend more money, or to not change agency, or to indulge some creative whim or other.

Maybe that's why there doesn't seem to be so many people calling themselves account handlers these days. I guess if you were genuinely good at that kind of manipulative handling, you'd be smart enough to ditch the label.

I mention "handling" only because it seems like the perfect word to describe one of those pointless terrors of the modern marketing world: the tendency to endlessly debate and delineate the characteristics and minutiae of the brand, while failing to connect with any genuine business problem. I've come to think of this as "brand handling"; it's a kind of academic game, which sucks everyone in, but which results in the "brand" being "handled", that is pummelled, fondled and massaged through endless meetings and PowerPoint decks, but with no substantive change happening in the real world. You know what I mean. If you think you might have become involved in this, here are five tell-tale indications of early-stage "brand handling":

1. You spend massive amounts of time debating which shape would be best used to clarify your brand model. More than one vegetable is on the list of potential shapes.

2. It takes longer to explain what your brand stands for than to explain what your product does. And doing so seems more important to you.

3. You've been involved in meetings and furious e-mail exchanges about whether a fifth of your brand values should be "fun" or "funny". You fail to see anything amusing in this.

4. You understand the semiotics of your product label, but not the list of ingredients on the back.

5. You've worked on a piece of business for six months and the most creative thing you've done is put interesting pictures in PowerPoint.

I don't mean to point any fingers here, because we've all done it, but this tendency to indulge in pointless theory is all the more dangerous when we're confronted with a commercial landscape that demands immediate and constant action. Spend too long "handling" your "brand" and you'll forget about serving your customer.

russell.davies@russelldavies.com.

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