Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Jeremy, I am working for a very demanding client who turns down my ideas without giving me any idea of what they are looking for. How can I communicate this without jeopardising the relationship?

A: If clients knew what they were looking for, they wouldn't be paying you to find it. The only clients who know exactly what they're looking for are those who are looking for exactly what they got last time. Since you know that, too, they shouldn't cause you much of a problem. Neither, of course, do they present you with much of a creative opportunity.

When this client turns down all your ideas, he still doesn't know what he's looking for; he simply knows that what he's looking at isn't it. So you're left with two options.

You can continue to produce ideas but entirely haphazardly. The most efficient way to do this is by adopting an Edward de Bono technique called Random Stimulus. Close your eyes and jab your ballpoint at a page of densely printed text. Highlight the nearest noun. (I've just done it: the word was "error".) In no more than 15 minutes, base a new campaign idea on the concept of error. Do it again. And again.

And again. You will have four new campaign ideas within the hour and one of them may be brilliant. Your client will say: "That's exactly what I was looking for!" If he doesn't, bring out the ballpoint.

The other option is both more devious and more principled. Stop trying to think of something that your client might like and concentrate on finding an utterly brilliant execution of the agreed strategy. (In the absence of an agreed strategy, adopt one that you think makes sense.)

At your next meeting, present this idea and no other. This is what you should say: "You won't remember this, Nigel, but at our last meeting you said something utterly brilliant. It was almost a throwaway but it struck me like a thunderbolt. It was inspiring. You said: 'Funny how most advertising is about getting things right, isn't it ...?'"

And then you show him the brilliant campaign you've done based on the concept of error. (If your brilliant campaign is based on a different concept, you will obviously need to amend your introduction accordingly.)

The secret of achieving creative approval is granting what we old-timers call proxy authorship. People find it difficult to reject ideas that they themselves, it seems, have inspired. I think you'll find this option very efficacious.

Q: I'm the UK chief executive of a large financial services company. Following a restructure, I've suddenly found myself in control of the marketing purse-strings for the first time. I've never thought much about advertising - those decisions were always made by head office. While I don't necessarily have any problems with the work our agency does for us, after nine years I'm naturally curious to see what others might suggest for our brand. What's the best way to play this one?

A: Oh dear. You're entirely at liberty, of course, to invite any number of agencies, at no cost to yourself, to come up with dozens of wizard ideas. New chief executives and marketing directors do it all the time.

No need to feel guilty; you're not exploiting your position; after all, these over-eager agencies could always say no, couldn't they? And you needn't fret too much about demoralising your existing agency: they know the score. The reason I say oh dear is that you clearly think that advertising is just about ads. But as a financial services company, your advertising is the only face you have; the only shop window you have; and therefore the only clue to your character that everyone else has. When you've worked all that out, preferably with your existing agency, give them first chance to deliver. Only if they fail should you go for a beauty contest. You might even know what you're looking for by then. (See above.)

Q: Dear Jeremy. A quick question: I'm the chief executive of a company about to embark on an advertising review. My marketing director insists we need to use a matchmaking agency. Why?

A: Choosing an ad agency is not an exact science. Every week this reputable journal records a third account move in as many years or a sheepish return to a previous incumbent. Every marketing director, when confidently announcing the appointment of GBH for their intuitive insights and ground-breaking creativity, is secretly thinking: "Christ, they'd better deliver."

Matchmaking agencies may or may not increase the chances of your making a happy match. They certainly provide welcome cover if it all goes horribly wrong.

- "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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