Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the chief executive of a London agency and am increasingly coming up against the views of one of our global account "barons". He throws his weight around the network, interfering in day-to-day management issues that are not his concern. How do I get him to back off?

A: I bet you believe that there was once a carefree time for agencies, before the word global was invented and when the nearest thing to an MNC was an American company with a branch office in London, England. No global baronies, no tensions between office management and account management, no unseemly competition for the same resources? Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

The personal bargaining power of agency people has always stemmed from just two sources: their evident talent and the importance of their clients. Evident talent is sadly rare. On the other hand, only modestly capable account management people, with a fair wind and successful clients, can quite soon find themselves responsible for a beefy chunk of an agency's profits. Subtly or brazenly, with motives that range from the impeccable to the despicable, they begin to exercise this power: in their claims on resource and personal advancement. And so it came about, even in the good old days, that modestly capable account management people sidled their way into managing directorships; whereupon the true modesty of their abilities became cruelly exposed.

The advent of the global client, active in 43 countries and with an annual expenditure of several billion bananas, naturally required the appointment of an agency equivalent: hence the advent of the Global Business Unit and its Oberste Fuhrer. The big difference between the modestly capable account management person and the Oberste Fuhrer of today is that the Oberste Fuhrer has absolutely no ambition to become the CEO of a branch office. The Oberste Fuhrer is already more important than that; in other words, is already more important than you. I expect he speaks disparagingly about your local clients, the narrowness of their vision and their insignificant contribution to the bottom line. I'm not surprised you're having problems and I have every sympathy for you.

Getting him to back off is difficult. Starve him of resources and he'll accuse you of disloyalty, petty nationalism and anti-Americanism. Arm-wrestling won't work: he's stronger than you. Your only hope is Ju Jitsu, in which intelligence and skill is used to overcome brute strength. Ju means gentle, Jitsu means art. You must smother him with attention, canvass his opinion on the colour of the carpets, involve him in the planning of the Christmas party and dominate his Blackberry with hourly messages of support. This will leave him absolutely nothing to disagree or interfere with, allowing you (in whatever time is left) to get on and run your agency. Dignified it ain't, but it just might work. Nothing else will.

Q: What do you think about asking the public to vote on which two ad treatments they'd rather see running as a campaign? Coke is doing this in Italy but it seems rather a dangerous step to me.

A: There's powerful evidence that members of focus groups become committed brand advocates. When people are involved with a brand, it seems, they become proprietorial. Ideally, the entire population should be invited to participate in focus groups but it's obviously a bit cheaper to invite them to vote. And if the ads don't work, the agency's hands are clean. What a nifty wheeze.

Q: Most of the clients we work with these days are looking for a Big Idea that can work in different guises across different communication channels. Why then does the ad industry persist with judging everything as an individual one-off execution? Shouldn't we stop awarding things like Best Poster On The Back Of A Bus, Best Black-And-White National Small Space Press Ad and simply start awarding Best Idea?

A: Of course, of course, you're absolutely right. Except I don't think you need scrap the one-off, Best Bus Side bits: they keep the winners happy and the Grosvenor House in profit. If anything, let's have more. I've long wanted to see a Best Use of Fridge Magnet category, for example. But I'm all for having a Best Idea award. The problem is that the best Best Ideas become apparent only in retrospect and award shows like to be current. So here's a challenge for you; and anyone else who cares to join in.

Had the Best Idea category existed over the past ten years, who would you have liked to see win? If submissions are interesting enough, we'll report them here.

- "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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