Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: My brand could do with some trending up and branded content sounds like it could be the way forward. However, all the trendy people at branded content agencies make me feel uncomfortable and distinctly untrendy. How do you suggest I approach them or could you suggest an alternative route?

A: Your opening sentence fills me with misgiving. How do you know your brand needs trending up? What does trending up mean? Why do you think branded content sounds like it could be the way forward?

If this is a fair example of your rigorous approach to marketing communications, no wonder the brand's in trouble.

You're floundering. You're also deeply insecure. So look at yourself in your bathroom mirror and say after me: "I am a client. I am in the driving seat. I am the boss. I hold the chequebook. Irrespective of how I dress, speak or spend my recreation time, I enjoy unchallenged dominance over my suppliers."

See? You feel better already.

Next, do a proper planning job on your brand. Identify its competitive strengths and weaknesses. Write it all down.

Then put on a ginger tweed suit, drip-dry shirt, rugby club tie and lace-up brown shoes - and send for some branded content agencies. They will implore you to visit them. Refuse. Firmly.

These are the people who have made you feel uncomfortable and distinctly untrendy. That is precisely what they set out to make you feel. When new media (channels, touchpoints, brand encounter opportunities) are first touted around, they share two characteristics. They have no reassuring history of effectiveness and they offer no means of measurement. It follows that their only available sales tactic is to make people like you feel distinctly untrendy if they don't succumb - and like heroic trailblazers if they do.

Sit them down, politely decline their offer of a laptop presentation, show them your one-page planning document - and see what sense they make of it. Stripped of their cutting-edge offices, fancy reel and Guatemalan receptionist, their brain capacity will be cruelly exposed. If they have nothing to offer you, you'll know it before you've finished your instant coffee.

Alternatively, you could become their most treasured client - and for all the right reasons.

Q: I have just got a new job heading the marketing department at a medium-sized retail business and I have quickly learnt that marketers are viewed with a distinct lack of respect by senior management here. What can I do to get them to start taking what we do seriously?

A: Sorry to be irritating - but why on earth didn't you spot this before you took on the job? The giveaway's in your question: you make a clear distinction between marketing and senior management. If senior management doesn't include marketing, marketing will never command respect. Marketing will be seen as a lean-to shed on the other side of the executive car-park; as a last-ditch way to shift unwanted stuff; as a shameful reminder that product quality doesn't always ensure demand. Price-offs, free CDs, and living it up with ad agencies in Soho: that's all marketing people are good for.

Does your job description encourage you to examine and improve your customers' shopping experience? I bet it doesn't - but it should. About the only way you can clamber out of this depressing mess is to show that you have real retail flair: that you know how to make those shops more attractive and more profitable. You'll probably be told very sharply to get back in your box and concentrate on what you're paid for - which is put a better gloss on what exists. In which case, jump ship: but only to a ship where marketing and senior management are synonymous.

Q: I have a high-level client services job in a major agency and I have been fiddling timesheets. This recent news from America has given me The Fear. How can I get away with this?

A: As long as creative agencies are paid on the basis of man-hours expended, timesheets will lure unwary workers to disaster like the lights of wreckers on the Cornish coast.

One-word creative strategies are all the rage. How long did it take you to think of NOW!? Or YES!? Or MORE!? 75 seconds, even when multiplied by nine because that's how many people there were in the room, does not a decent margin make.

You are not, I suspect, alone. But you may soon be lonely. Stop it at once - and pray that you're saved by a statute of limitations.

- "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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