Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, as a chief executive of a blue-chip company I have been involved in the recent pitches for our advertising account. A couple of the pitching agencies fielded teams that included their parent company chief. Should I be impressed that my business has attracted the attentions of people who run global communications empires? I must admit to being rather flattered.

A: As the chief executive of a blue-chip company, you should be impervious to flattery. Haven't you noticed that a great many more people flatter you now than ever did before you became chief executive? And hasn't it occurred to you that there might be some tenuous causal relationship between your becoming chief executive and the number of people finding you an important human being? And haven't you already braced yourself for an abrupt decline in the number of people finding you an important human as soon as you cease to be chief executive?

You certainly should.

However, you're not alone. Human beings find it impossible to be impervious to flattery - which is why they resent its absence.

The two parent company chiefs took part in their respective pitches not because of their creative abilities or even their inspirational leadership skills. They took part because you'd have been deeply miffed if they hadn't.

"I see," you'd have said to yourself. "So they're now so gross and self-important that they won't even get out of bed for 25 million quid!"

You should nonetheless be grateful for their presence. Forget the flattery: make ruthless use of the leverage. If you appoint one of their agencies, make it a condition of your contract to have quarterly Satisfaction Audit meetings with the parent chief. You'll not be loved - but you'll be spared the fate so movingly chronicled by my correspondent below.

Q: We hired an advertising agency after a four-way pitch earlier this year. It was a close-run thing, so we ended up picking the winner on gut feel. Six months later it appears our gut was suffering a malaise. The agency has been distracted by the subsequent win of a larger client and has not come up with the kind of work we were looking for. I'm considering calling in the agency that came a close second, or going to a matchmaker and asking them to put together a new shortlist. Any advice gratefully received.

A: Never forget that advertising agencies are staffed entirely by professional optimists. That's why agencies exist, and even occasionally prosper. All clients need the services of professional optimists.

For example. This is what, on ruthless scrutiny, the client brief reveals: a retail operation with no universally accepted strengths, an ageing customer base, inefficient supply lines, outdated, overpriced merchandise and store interiors last attended to in 1978.

And this is what any worthwhile agency will see: a once-and-future iconic brand, whose courageous commitment to timeless values needs only the creative catalyst of a radical communications strategy to enjoy once again both prestige and profit as the consumer pendulum swings massively back in its favour.

So when the agency you appointed six months ago committed its top talent to undistracted attention to your business, it was telling the truth. Such is the optimism of agencies, it truly believed that it would.

Give them yet another chance. Shame them mercilessly. Threaten them with public revelations. It's much your best first move.

Second best: appoint the agency that came second. Tell them why. They'll get the message. Don't draw up a new shortlist. Six new and unfamiliar agencies, all transmitting waves of unanchored optimism, will keep you confused for another year.

Q: As chief executive of a fairly substantial agency that has recently lost a large number of senior managers, I'm looking to shore up the agency's position with the hiring of a creative supremo. My dilemma is I don't have much of a budget. What do you suggest?

A: You're terminally confused. The loss of so many senior managers should have left your salary budget bursting its banks - yet you can't afford a creative director. What have you done with it all? And why do you think the appointment of a creative director is going to stabilise an agency seriously weak in account management?

The greatest contribution you can make to your agency now is to leave it.

- "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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