Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Dear Jeremy, my media agency seems to have turned into a research lab: it's neuro this, cognitive that, and I can barely understand a word.

Meanwhile, my procurement director just wants to make sure we're going to be paying less for everything next year than this. Can these two developments continue to co-habit or should I just accept that media is a commodity that should be traded for a good price and tell my agency to forget about the fancy stuff?

A: Not only will these two developments continue to co-habit (what an unfortunate phrase) but the continued growth of the one ensures the continued growth of the other.

I have no idea what sort of business you're in, but the chances are that you buy media in the hope of getting enough people to pay enough for what you're selling so that you make more money than you would if you just stuck the same money on deposit somewhere. This is what we in the trade call enhancing consumer value with a view to the protection of margins.

It's a perfectly respectable thing to be doing - indeed, not to be doing it would be downright irresponsible.

So you should understand that your media agency has exactly the same modest ambition - which happens to be precisely the one that your procurement director has been instructed to thwart.

Just as you hope to avoid what you sell becoming a commodity, so does your agency. By acquiring and then passing on to you valuable expertise, they hope to resist the more extreme demands of your procurement director; in much the same way that you use media advertising in the hope of resisting the more extreme demands of your rapacious retailers. So it follows that the greater the pressure applied by your procurement director, the greater the need for your agency to get into cognitive this and neuro that. In other words, it's all your fault.

Furthermore, some of this cognitive/neuro stuff could well turn out to be extremely valuable, so don't knock it.

Your procurement director may be almost correct in thinking that media can be bought as if it were just another raw material. But knowing which media to buy is an art; and so, of course, is knowing how to make magical use of it. The cheapest media in the world is cripplingly expensive if it's the wrong stuff wretchedly used. Unless you've instructed your procurement director in this important difference, your competitors will soon be very happy people.

Q: I'm an ambitious account director and I work on the account of a client who is a great mate of the creative director. The problem is, because of their relationship, the creative director doesn't involve me in discussions for the account and I want to make my mark on this business. How can I manage this?

A: Let me put a tentative suggestion to you. The reason that your client and your creative director fail to involve you in account discussions is that you've nothing to contribute. I suspect you're one of those many ambitious account directors who believe it's entirely possible to be hugely successful in advertising without having to go to the trouble of learning anything about it. Your average plumber or orthopaedic surgeon might find the equivalent difficult; but, as I'm sure you've noted, a surprising number of your predecessors seem to have pulled it off. Your creative director may still enjoy shutting you out; but the moment you've something of value to contribute, your client, at least, will want you in.

Q: A media agency chief executive writes: I've recently been made the CEO of a large and very successful media agency and I'm only in my mid-thirties.

I want to stay in the industry but I'm concerned that I've peaked too early and there will not be a job with equal status and a challenge big enough to sustain an upward career trajectory after I've finished this one. Am I right or will I still have something to offer in years to come?

A: You'll probably have a lot to offer - but it won't be what you're offering now.

You can't be a young thruster for more than another 15 years. There are no such things as Middle-Aged Turks.

Look around you. Who's over 50 and still well paid and well respected?

Consultants, that's who.

Consultants can be very old indeed. They are known to be sage; deep-bottomed receptacles of wisdom and experience. Their slower pace, far from a handicap, is seen as evidence of their sagacity.

And because, when things go awry, the consultant is always strangely elsewhere, the record remains unblemished. Trust me.

- "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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