Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Surrey Garland, the head of copy at Masius, writes: Dear Jeremy, 100 years or so ago, enterprising media brokers began to offer thoughts on strategy and creativity to add value to the space they brokered.

As today's media shops are all going upstream into strategy, should we be looking forward to them inventing "creative teams" in about 2063, the "planner" in about 2066, and to a flowering of advertising creativity from around 2072 to, say, 2100?

Dear Surrey, nice to hear from you and thank you for your question. You're half-right, I think.

In fact, it's at least 140 years since those pioneering media brokers started offering their clients free thoughts on strategy and creative content. Their motives were entirely selfish.

Up until then, they'd competed with each other on price alone: so bangs were costing fewer and fewer bucks. This was good for the clients but bad for the brokers, whose margins were getting thinner by the day. So they began to offer advertising content as a sort of on-pack premium: a media schedule planned and bought - And Now With Your Own Tailor-Made Words and Pictures Absolutely Free!

And so the full-service agency was born; but because it was media-based, it was born with a terrible, genetic flaw called the commission system.

For 140 years, the most valuable ingredient of an advertising campaign - its Idea - has been provided to clients free of charge. So when creative and media were finally decoupled, nobody had the faintest idea how to put a value on the creative bit. Did it depend on input or output? On the number of man-hours devoted to its creation - or on its beneficial contribution to the client's bottom line? The first is manifestly daft; the second impossible to calculate.

So I think you're right: the full-service agency is bound to re-emerge.

But unless that genetic flaw is corrected - unless the value of an advertising idea is not only recognised but proportionately rewarded - the cycle is doomed to repeat itself. It's an opportunity that won't crop up again for 140 years.

Q: I've just moved agencies and I really wish I hadn't. I was headhunted for my new job, which was too good to turn down - promotion, big pay increase and what seemed like a great bunch of people. The trouble is that the reality is a lot different to the pitch they gave me at the interview.

The atmosphere is bitchy and backbiting, the level of bureaucracy is hard to believe and the result is that nothing much ever seems to get done.

Do I have to stick it out or should I go to my old employers and beg for my old job back?

A: According to The Official Register of Stereotypes, advertising people are hard-bitten, cynical creatures. So why is it, I wonder, that people leap from a company they know and like to a company of which they're totally ignorant on the basis of a couple of interviews?

You've been around for a year or two. You know that advertising agencies sell themselves compulsively: to clients, potential clients, journalists and applicants. Give them an audience - from one to 500 - and they'll be out there selling.

So why didn't you ask a few mates about that agency? Why didn't you find out which pub they went to after work and listen? Why didn't you behave like a hard-bitten cynical adman? You know that, too. They flattered you, told you everything you wanted to hear, nourished your vanity. They wanted you a great deal more than you wanted them - and they got you.

You don't need to beg - but certainly make contact with your old employers.

If they rated you, and if they still have a spot, they should welcome you back: you're that rarest of birds, a risk-free hire. Expect some jokes: you deserve a few. But look at it through their eyes for a change. What a signal to staff and clients that you want to come back. What's more, they'll know that you won't go wandering again for a year or two. Will you?

Q: We're busting a gut and working all hours on a pitch that I'm worried is more a case of the client going through the motions to please shareholders than it is a serious evaluation of alternative strategies - they've been with their agency for donkey's and I'm convinced that, albeit after much public hand-wringing and soul-searching, they're going to do a Sainsbury's and end up back with their incumbent. My question is this: how can I tell their true intentions?

A: They are not as one. Since they don't know their true intentions themselves, you certainly can't.

"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.