Opinion: On the Campaign couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, I'm a young brand manager. Nobody from marketing has ever made it onto the board of my company. I believe marketing should have a proper boardroom voice and as an ambitious marketer I'd also like to feel a seat at the big table was within my grasp. Should I move to a company where marketing has more top-level status?

A: The word marketing has two meanings. It has a theoretical, academic meaning. And it has a real-life, day-to-day meaning. They're worlds apart. The theoretical meaning of marketing is this: a management process that should be the focal point for a company's total activity. And the day-to-day meaning is this: getting rid of stuff. You clearly work for a company that believes marketing is just about getting rid of stuff. So you can see why they've never had a board level marketing person; getting rid of stuff is not a job for board-level people.

Even when marketing people are called marketing directors, they seldom have any serious influence on what comes out of the factory gates. Their job is to take what comes out of the factory gates and get rid of it.

Study the new appointments sections of the marketing press. Tim has moved from marketing director agro-chemicals to marketing director wet-wipes.

Suzie has gone from Madame Tussaud's to roastchicken. com. Jake has gone from Lego to Friends Provident. It is perfectly clear that no prior knowledge of the product field is required or expected. The only skill they bring is the ability to get rid of stuff.

And that's the best job you can hope for in your present company. It's true there are one or two exceptional companies where marketing does act as the central management process - but that, of course, means that the marketing director is the chief executive. So either way, mate, I'm afraid you're buggered.

Q: Dear Jeremy, my creative partner and I have spent years trying to raise standards in the DM industry. Now an above-the-line creative agency has decided that in the interests of integration it should have a DM creative team in house. They've offered us lots of money. Would we be selling out if we said yes?

A No, you wouldn't be selling out. You'd just be re-consigning yourselves to the rank of second-class citizen. For many years, packaging, PR and direct marketing specialists languished in obscurity as lowly departments within advertising agencies - overshadowed and under-rewarded by their glitzy parents. As long as the commission system survived, agencies could afford to provide these peripheral services at cost or less. Competition between agencies was based not on price but on the provision of service.

This suited just about everyone except the exploited workers in the specialist departments. It is not good for the self-esteem to know that your talent is seen as peripheral and is given away to clients like an on-pack promotion.

So when agencies were faced with the reality of fee negotiations, they were forced to cut costs. They couldn't ditch their suits, planners or creative people - so they abandoned their specialists; who, freed from slavery, joyously formed their own companies, regained their self-regard and found they could charge twice as much for what they did. Do you really want to return to obscurity?

Q: Dear Jeremy, chemistry meetings seem to have become an increasingly popular part of the pitching process. Do you have any tips on how to make a good impression?

A: When you were a young swain, casting covetous eyes across the milking parlour at a pert young maid, did you, I wonder, attempt to advance your cause by suggesting a chemistry meeting? Or did you, more sensibly, invite her to the bioscope?

Whether they're meant to be or not, all meetings are chemistry meetings; but much the most fruitful chemistry meetings have an ostensible purpose beyond.

To the client, the only purpose of a chemistry meeting is to peer behind that agency veneer and find out what they're really like. But you don't audition a comedian by asking him how funny he is.

The wisest potential client I ever knew understood this. He briefed us on a new product that turned out later not to exist. He invited us to the opera. He asked us to participate in an industry event he was chairing.

The word chemistry was never mentioned. Seven months later, without a pitch, he appointed us: and we had a long and mutually satisfying relationship.

You ask how to make a good impression. Show him some new ideas - and then shut up and listen.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone 020 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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