Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: A year ago, we appointed an agency, mostly based on the strength of the whole team. But now there is only one member of the original team left. We're not nearly as in tune with the new people. How should I broach this subject with them?

A: New-business pitches are like general election campaigns. No political party that told the whole truth and nothing but the truth would stand a chance of getting elected. "We have been out of office for so long that only one member of our top team has ministerial experience. We have yet to agree on our tax policies but they're certain to be unpopular - which is why we present them in impenetrable and ambiguous prose. Should we win an overall majority, there will be an immediate front-bench reshuffle. Many of the present incumbents were appointed not on merit but as sops to our more extreme activists. Once we have secured the votes they attract, we shall be free to dispense with them."

So with the new-business presentation. No agency that told the whole truth and nothing but the truth would stand a chance of being appointed.

"We have five people in the agency who are not only quite bright but who are also fantastically charismatic presenters. These are the people you will meet today. We will strongly imply (and may even, if challenged, explicitly confirm) these five would be permanent members of your account group. Should you appoint us, however, do not expect to see four of them ever again, except possibly at our Christmas party."

Even as we condemn, we should have sympathy for both political parties and advertising agencies. Both, for all their failings, are capable of doing great things.

Neither can do great things unless they are chosen. And neither will ever be chosen if they play things absolutely straight.

So when you approach your agency, do so gently. What has happened to that original team of yours? You have every right to ask for them back; but before you do so, check your own judgment. Those who seem to be most in tune with you are often those who always agree with you. As long as you're always right about everything, of course, that's just fine. But maybe the team that's taken over is a little more challenging ... a little more abrasive ... more complementary, perhaps, and less complimentary?

And at this point, my tolerance snaps. I've defended your agency to the limits of my conscience and I haven't even convinced myself. You're the client, for chrissake. They promised you one thing and have given you another. Draft an article about your experience that you believe the trade press might enjoy running. Show it to the last remaining member of your original team; then put your agency on six months' probation. You'll be happy again within weeks, I promise.

Q: I have no problem with the account team at the agency we employ, but when major new creative is being presented, they bring along the creatives who are aggressive and are unable to contribute to discussions rationally. How should I deal with this?

A: What a revealing question. It's clear that your agency defines an account team as being comprised entirely of suits - with perhaps the occasional planner to add a reassuring touch of integrity. It's equally clear that you tolerate such absurdity. Well, stop it. Your account group should comprise all the skills and disciplines your business demands: that's what an account group means. Any account team that "brings along the creatives" isn't an account team. You're the client, for chrissake. Insist that your account team includes dedicated creative persons and that they take part in all major discussions on strategy. Good creative persons are good on strategy.

The most obvious manifestation of the dysfunctional account group is the Dogleg Presentation: an excellent planning session followed by some challenging creative. The only trouble is these two contributions are clearly meeting each other for the first time.

Some agencies use creatives as storm troopers, their only function being to terrorise clients into buying irrelevant work. That's why they're aggressive and irrational; they have to be. Insist on a proper account group and you'll be happy again within weeks, I promise.

Q: When is it the right time to fire a client?

A: 1: At least a week before he plans to fire you. And 2: When you know with signed-up certainty that you can replace the business overnight.

Unless and until these two conditions are met, it is never the right time to fire a client. But there are still times when you should.

- "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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