Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Our new client, clearly out to make a name for himself, has decided we must change the strapline on a particular ad campaign. The line has been running for years and has become synonymous with the brand. Everyone who works on the account at the agency believes the line is a precious commodity; the client is determined it should go. Do you have any advice?

A: I do apologise. You sent me this question a couple of years ago and it somehow got buried at the bottom of my pending file.

It's a funny thing, creative consistency. People are seldom consistent in their approach to it. Agencies fortunate enough to have handled an account for 60 years are strangely in favour of consistency. New marketing directors are not. On the other hand, agencies invited to pitch for an account that has been held by another agency for 60 years are in favour of change.

At the same time, incumbent marketing directors, when presented with a new and unwanted creative team, fear change above all else.

Straplines fall into two categories: dead and alive. A live strapline is a rare and wonderful thing. It encapsulates the brand; it invites participation; it is a little miracle of wit, in that it compresses a thought while refreshing its meaning.

A dead strapline just sits there, sullen and uncommunicative. It may have meant something 60 years ago but it now depends for its survival entirely on superstition: nobody thinks it does any good but nobody wants to be responsible for its burial.

The best marketing directors and agencies know that a good strapline can be protected from decomposition by constant ingenuity. Just as the strapline should epitomise the brand, so each different advertisement should re-illuminate the strapline. To be consistent is not synonymous with being stale.

Of course you know all this but it seems that your new client doesn't.

So should your strapline stay or go? The answer: play for time. Exactly the same question may soon be asked about your client. Or perhaps it already has?

Q: I am a marketer who is fast losing faith in the advertising industry, particularly after the kick-back payments fiasco. What else could my agencies be hiding from me?

A: I know it's not very newsworthy, but agencies tend to be ploddingly straight.

The only things your agency could be hiding from you are their contempt - and maybe some brilliant creative work they think you're too insensitive to appreciate.

Q: An agency chief writes: We're considering severing our relationship with a major pitch consultancy. Are we mad?

A: Your financial director may have persuaded you that this is a simple issue, easily resolved. Are the monies you pay to the pitch consultancy more than returned in business gained? If yes, you'd be mad to sever the relationship.

If no, ditch them immediately. Financial directors love the binary system: a world that reduces everything to a choice between 0 and 1 lets them sleep easy at nights. No moral maze for them. But there is, I'm sorry to say, for you. As political advisers belatedly discovered about 15 years ago, decisions are never accepted at face value. What decisions do is "send out signals". And how those signals are interpreted is affected more by the perceived status of the sender than by the intrinsic merit of the decisions themselves.

In case that was a bit too abstract for you, let me be cruelly specific.

If you're an agency with a five-year record of new-business success and client retention, your decision to ditch this major pitch consultancy will be seen as yet further evidence of your ascendancy - and as a potentially terminal blow to the matchmaker. On the other hand, if your new-business record is, to put it kindly, threadbare, that very same decision will be seen as yet further evidence of your irredeemable pusillanimity. Not only a serial loser, but a bad one at that. So your financial director's advice was diametrically wrong.

I do hope this helps.

Q: At the end of last year, the media agency I employ told me that I would be receiving a cheque with several noughts at the end of it. It represents what the agency has gained in terms of volume deals over the past few years. I had no problem with my media agency benefiting from volume deals - it's sound commercial practice. I do, however, take issue with being handed a cheque that will make my bosses think I've been overpaying on media. What shall I tell my bosses?

A: Try the truth.

- "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.