Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Dear Jeremy, I hold a senior position at one of the most successful media agencies in the UK and I've been offered a position at a start-up.

I've been on cruise control in my current job for some time now and I need a new challenge. I know the people already on board and know that we would work well together. However, the agency has only one client and I think the move is imbued with a high level of risk. Not least of these is the consolidation of media agencies into powerful buying groups. Is there a future for a small start-up in this changing landscape?

A: They may not have spelt it out to you, but I bet you were offered this job in the expectation that you'd bring a lot of business with you. Why else would a start-up, with multiple partners already in place and with only one client, choose to add to their overheads?

People who have been part of large successful media companies often forget that large successful media companies attract new business simply because they're large successful media companies. Clients may occasionally follow a lone creative star but seldom if ever a lone media buyer. The bigger the buyer, in theory at least, the bigger the bang clients get for their bucks. All the lone media buyer can offer is an almost inaudible pop.

So the chances are, after the warm welcome and the shameless press release, you'll sit there, day after day, putting through calls to former clients but somehow never getting past Jacqui. Yes, that very same Jacqui who always used to laugh at your jokes and put you through to Nigel even on a Friday afternoon.

Quite soon, your new partners will become a lot less warm and welcoming and you'll realise with a deadly chill that they only loved you for your Rolodex. Quite soon, when you arrive in the morning, the receptionist will avoid your eye.

Not that I want to put you off, of course. Small media start-ups always have a chance. It's just that things never look too rosy for small media start-ups that stop being start-ups but go on being small.

Dear Jeremy, I work in a senior role at a media agency and recently had lunch with one of my clients. We got on really well and moved on to the subject of sport. I mentioned that I used to play a bit of rugby and before I knew it I had agreed to play for the client's team in a really important match. I tried to downplay my abilities but the client is convinced I am the saviour of his team and a Jonny Wilkinson in waiting. Shall I come clean and confess to not being very good or play and risk disgracing myself and discrediting my agency? As the day gets nearer, I get more and more nervous. Jeremy, what do I do?

A: Break a leg.

Dear Jeremy, I am the marketing director at a packaged goods company and am getting excited about the imminent relaxation of the product placement regulations in the UK. Cheap, editorially endorsed, placement must be better than expensive television advertising. Are there any potential downsides?

A: Oh yes, lots. For example, you call television advertising expensive.

But if you spent ten million bananas on TV advertising and as a result made 15 million bananas, would you still think that expensive? And if you spent five million bananas on product placement and weren't absolutely sure what had happened as a result, would you call that cheap? Or would you call it more expensive? Would you have saved five million or forgone five million? You probably wouldn't know - so you'd have to tell your board that you'd saved five million. Which, of course, you might have done, but there again, you might not. So if sales seem pleasantly buoyant, you'll be all right. But not if not.

If you're a control freak, product placement can be unsettling. Do you like pre-testing things? Do you like tracking things? Do you like knowing in advance exactly how your brand is going to be portrayed? Do you prefer to know, before you sign the cheque, just how many people are going to be exposed to your brand and what sort of people they will be? Have you ever questioned the use of public relations on the grounds that it's not as controllable as spot advertising?

If you say yes to any or all of the above, you may wish to stay with your expensive alternative. But if, on the other hand, you have flair, vision, unsinkable self-confidence and the unquestioning support of your main board, go for cheap old product placement. You could easily be right.

- "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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