Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: As today's media shops are all now getting 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?

A: Let us pray that history doesn't repeat itself. The first advertising agency cycle lasted from 1864 to 1990. It started with media broking - which became so price-competitive that agencies had to add value. So they offered clients not just space but stuff to fill the space with.

It wasn't called creative work but that's what it was. It came free with the space, thus implanting the poison pill that has bedevilled the business ever since.

Writing stuff meant having to think first, so the agencies also got into strategy; 100 years later it became planning. By now, the media buying bit, the bit that had started the whole thing off and the only bit that generated serious income, had been relegated to the servants' quarters.

Cheerfully forgetting to whom they owed their origins and salaries, the suits, the creatives and the planners patronised media persons, restricting them to the last ten minutes of a three-hour presentation and then over-running.

The media mutiny began to rumble. Two other factors made a Declaration of Independence inevitable. Media owners coalesced into vast, single selling bodies, their scale making them impossible for the miniscule media departments to haggle with. And the media departments found their own ability to grow restricted not by the media function, where scale was of value to clients, but by the creative function where scale was not. Within a few months, the full-service agency was dead.

This time around the cycle will accelerate. Once again, most of the initiative will come from the media companies - for three reasons. They have greater weight; they have an acute commercial need to differentiate themselves; and they are less mindlessly anchored than their creative equivalents to a misconception about creativity.

But if that's where the leadership will come from, the most valuable product the new mega-agencies will offer will not be media planning and investment, it will be inventiveness: the ability to conjure Olympian ideas from gigabytes of data and send brands soaring into stardom. It will be fascinating to see how these ideas get paid for. If they come free with the media, we're in trouble again. That's why we should pray that history doesn't repeat itself.

Q: What are your feelings on black trousers with brown shoes?

A: For the past 20 years, advertising agencies and their representative bodies have been obsessed by one question. How did we come to lose our place at the client's top table? Why are we no longer seen as grand strategists, trusted business confidantes, brilliantly intuitive personal coaches to the Footsie's chairmen?

They need be puzzled no longer.

While clients concern themselves with the power of the retail trade, production over-capacity on a global scale, the price of oil and how to measure the ROI of WOM, we in the agency world fret about brown shoes and black trousers.

Personally, I have no feelings about black trousers with brown shoes.

If worn by a marketing director in charge of a £75 million marketing budget, they look just wonderful. I do however have feelings about people who think that other people should have feelings about black trousers and brown shoes.

Q: I have been recommended a great senior account handler as a potential employee, the only problem is that he's married to the managing director of one of my fiercest competitors. Is his domestic set-up irrelevant, given that he's a seasoned pro, or am I right to feel suspicious of how much he might share with his wife over a glass of wine?

A: Statistics suggest that the average agency employee, in the course of the average agency career, enters into an average of 5.7 casual affairs but only 1.3 marriages. So you should be four times as worried about the casual affairs that your employees have as you are about their marriages.

But, of course, you only know about the marriages: and here we get to the heart of the matter. There is not the slightest chance that this great account handler will spill commercially sensitive beans to his wife.

There is, however, an absolute certainty that one of your clients, knowing his account handler to be married to a competitor, will express his deep concern to you that he might. Deeply unfair, isn't it?

- "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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