Opinion: On the Campaign couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, Every month I read that certain TV ads have had viewer complaints upheld against them by Ofcom. In the light of the success that TBWA\London has had through having its fcuk work constantly pre-vetted by the ASA and with the recognised value that this PR could achieve, is an Ofcom investigation some mark of prestige that agencies could use to their advantage?

A: Thank you for this question. I'm planning to write a very long book, with pie charts and footnotes, on this very subject. It will be called either Mortgaging the Future or I'm the Vicar of Stiffkey ... Get Me out of Here!

For brands as for people, there's an easily achievable form of fame that demands a surprisingly small investment. Its name is notoriety. Max Clifford knows all about it and so do newspapers and the makers of reality television programmes. The Reverend Harold Davidson, former Vicar of Stiffkey in Norfolk, knew all about it 74 years ago.

Found guilty of consorting with dozens of fallen women, many of them under age, the Reverend was unfrocked and lost his living. Resourcefully, he turned himself into a sideshow: sharing top billing on Hampstead Heath with a dead whale, reclining on a bed of nails wearing nothing but a loincloth and boldly venturing unarmed into a cage of lions.

His notoriety was extremely lucrative: as notoriety, for people as for brands, so frequently is. The snag, of course, is durability. Notorious people and notorious brands seldom enjoy the respect and affection of successive generations. The peaks of their popularity are achieved at the expense of future earnings.

It's possible, of course, that your clients would be perfectly happy to settle for such a strategy. Itinerant brand managers seldom think beyond the current fiscal year and instant notoriety may be welcome. If there's a subsequent price to be paid, it will be up to their successor to pay it. But before you commit your clients to a deliberate policy of provoking the ASA and Ofcom, do please make sure they fully understand the possible implications. As for the Reverend Harold Davidson, we can only surmise that he would have experienced an extremely short life cycle. One of the lions ate him first.

Q: We're a mid-sized agency having just gone through a large number of management changes. One of our flagship clients is threatening to review unless we drop our prices considerably. What's the best course of action?

A: As a member of the current management team, and at a personal level, by far your best course of action is to persevere with your policy of continuous management change and resign. You'll find life a great deal more enjoyable at just about any agency that hasn't so squandered its professional reputation that its only remaining bargaining card is price.

You may, however - whether for financial, legal or quixotic reasons - be minded to stay. Should this be the case, you have just two options.

Desperate to avoid a public and debilitating review of your flagship account, you slash your fees. This will buy you a six-week remission.

That's as long as it takes for all your other clients to get to know of your new terms and insist, in writing, on a similar deal. You will then be trading at a loss and unable to take on any new business at profitable levels. For the medium term (i.e. over six weeks), you may not find this option attractive.

Alternatively, you exercise leadership. You summon such talent as you have managed to retain, target your flagship client, and make your agency indispensable. It's never easy, but formidable agencies do it all the time. Even procurement officers acknowledge indispensability. If you succeed, you'll have set your agency on a joyous new phase. If you fail, write to me again.

Q: It's the season for falling over, having sex with, punching or being sick on the CEO at the Christmas party. Any tips for patching this one up in the New Year?

A: What's so depressing about your question is its implicit acceptance of predestination. Have you no faith in free will? It is not pre-ordained that you should be sick on your CEO every December.

However, on the bleak assumption that you've yet again returned to work riddled with remorse and apprehension, here are some alternative strategies.

Volunteer to become your agency's Nabs representative and devote your weekends to good works.

Seize the initiative and resign.

Grow up.

- "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.