Opinion: On the Campaign Couch... with JB

I'm a client and I keep getting calls from media owners who seem to think that they can act as planners on my ad account. While I'm all for media owners being a bit more proactive, this rather defeats the point of employing an agency to handle my account in the first place. Do you think media owners will ever supplant the media agencies, and is this a good idea?

An interesting trend, this - the inevitable reaction to the vogue for media neutrality and agnosticism. Cerebral communications planners, positioned loftily above the fray, will recommend appropriate media with disinterested detachment. Great: but where's the passion? Passion's the new passion.

Everyone's passionate about passion these days, from sandwiches to cinema.

There's a whole new 250-page passion book on its way. And who can recommend any given medium with the most passionate conviction? Why, its owner, that's who. Forget about neutrality: give me blind, mindless, contagious enthusiasm every time; as long, of course, as you get it from all of them.

To appoint a single media owner as your planner would be to appoint Alastair Campbell as your voting advisor. Instead, invite all media owners, one by one, to expose you to competitive, passionate advocacy. They'll all jump at the chance. By the time you've seen them all, you'll know exactly what you should do.

I'm a grad. Do I really have to do any work? How can I whine my way out of photocopying?

I expect you went to a great many Milk Round presentations in your final year at university and found it pretty heady stuff. All these grand companies enthusiastically competing for the chance to offer you employment - for all the world as if they were pitching for Guinness. Being an innocent, you wouldn't have realised that ad agencies are compulsively competitive about absolutely everything. Show them a league table and they'll want to be top of it. Show them some undergraduates and they'll want to woo them. Agencies ache to be wanted by undergraduates even when they have no intention of hiring any.

So I expect you were told that you'd be paid as much as a merchant banker, given front-line client responsibility within six months and be up for the main board by your 25th birthday. And now here you are, doing the photocopying, booking taxis and lugging the PowerPoint projector all the way to Amersham.

What you're beginning to rumble is this: being a grad has a value only before you've found gainful employment. Thereafter it's at best neutral and can often prove a serious setback to your career: "Young Peregrine needs to be taken down a peg or two, if you ask me." And the more you whine, the longer you'll stay chained to the Hewlett-Packard.

What was your second choice of career?

My managing director was quite taken by a pitch from a well-known PR agency to handle our relationship with the press. As the new-business director, this role has always fallen to me. In my opinion, PR is an expensive waste of time and money that could be better spent on our own pitches.

Surely ad agencies should be able to do their own PR?

Forgive me for pointing out a little bit of muddled thinking here. You believe that PR is an expensive waste of time and money while simultaneously believing that agencies should do it themselves.

What you're really squealing about, of course, is turf. You deeply resent the thought of some (overpaid, aftershaved, cuff-linked) PR practitioner invading your territory. Or even worse, some bird-brained little piece of power-dressed totty. No wonder your managing director is taken by the thought of some open-minded outside help.

You'd both do well to remember Dave Flower's famous dictum: "Advertising's worth doing when you've done something worth advertising." This profound observation is just as true for PR. Most agencies have done things that merit wider knowledge. If they haven't, they don't need a PR: they need a CEO. A planned and sustained PR programme encourages an agency to think, innovate and publish: and so build a reputation that's not perilously dependent on the single dimension of new- business wins. If that was the burden of the PR company's pitch, they could well be worth the money.

But there is, of course, another PR pitch. Stripped to its essentials, it goes like this: "These days, perception is more important than reality. The great thing about PR is that it can dramatically improve your reputation for creativity/effectiveness/fashionability while requiring you to do absolutely nothing to deserve it." This is suckers' gold.

"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.

Topics