Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, The media agency I work for hasn't got a positioning or a mission statement and personally I prefer it that way. I think they make the agency sound cheap and ignore the inherent talents of the team effort.What do you think?

A: Correct me if I've got this wrong, but what you seem to be saying is this: you prefer not having a positioning or mission statement to having a positioning or mission statement that you haven't seen; and which, furthermore, despite being non-existent, makes your agency sound cheap. You'd lost me long before you got to the bit about them ignoring the inherent talents of the team effort. Your question reminds me of a famous poster Tom Rayfield once wrote, having plucked the thought from a conversation we'd just had about Guinness: "I've never tried it because I don't like it."

I fully grant you that most published mission statements make the whole idea of mission statements ridiculous. I have a heavy book that contains 301 Corporate Mission Statements from America's Top Companies and most make dismal reading. So loose and lofty are some of them that just one could cover every company in the world; for example, "Our corporate goals consist of satisfying the needs of our customers; providing meaningful work for our employees; producing a quality return to our shareholders; and preserving the health of our business". If that's the sort of MS you're opposed to, I'm with you. It does have a value, of course. If someone says: "Nigel, do we have a mission statement?" you can truthfully say yes. Otherwise you're better off with nothing.

But it's very easy for companies - particularly large, long-established companies - to forget why they exist. So even if they fail, every company (including yours) should try to write a mission statement. It's a salutary, humbling - and occasionally enlightening - exercise. You might take as your model this one from Chrysler: "To produce cars and trucks that people will want to buy, will enjoy driving, and will want to buy again."

If you can encapsulate your own reason for existence as unpretentiously as that, you'll have done extremely well. (Though be prepared for someone to say, but what about profit, then?)

Q: I'm the chief executive of the UK office of a European network. However, a European chief has been installed above me to run the group. How best do I ensure my role does not diminish?

A: There's an easy way and a difficult way.

The difficult way is this. Do everything you can, while escaping detection, to undermine the authority of your new European chief. Arrange meetings with top clients unilaterally. In the course of such meetings, let it seep into the conversation that your new chief, regrettably absent, is a great deal more interested in his network's profitability than he is in his clients'. Naturally, you should applaud this: "If it was left to idiots like me, we'd over-service our clients just for the love of the business. Chuck wouldn't pretend to know much about advertising but thank God we've finally got a hard-headed bean-counter to keep us up to the mark, ha ha."

When he complains that you're keeping him away from clients, invite him to address them all at a 7.30 breakfast meeting at the Barbican. Suggested topic: "Agency Profit Margins in the Procurement Age."

The easy way is easier though you may find it more difficult. Just make the UK by far the most successful and respected operation in Europe.

Q: It has reached the stage where I am arguing constantly with my creative partner. It is threatening the quality of our work - we just can't see eye to eye anymore. But my creative director insists we should stick it out because we're one of the best pairings in the agency. What should I do?

A: Do what you should have done years ago. Make it clear to your creative director - and to your creative partner - that, at least in advertising, there is neither pragmatic nor moral virtue in monogamy. Insist on working on two new briefs with two different partners - and that your existing partner does the same.

Seeing eye to eye doesn't always lead to good work but neither does constant conflict. As the intimate small ads coyly put it, why not spice up your life with a bit of pick 'n' mix, mix 'n' match? It could even save your marriage.

- "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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