Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Our biggest client has placed a worrying amount of faith in his newly appointed brand consultancy.

I admit it can do the intellectual stuff pretty well but the ideas it has come up with are mostly unworkable. I've tried pointing this out to our client who dismisses what I say as sour grapes. We can't afford to lose this business, yet we're being asked to do the impossible. Is there any way out of this dilemma?

A: Most people seem to think that account planning was invented in Britain in 1968. It wasn't. Account planning is as old as advertising. You can't write or place an ad without some form of planning, however primitive. (What do we want this ad to achieve? Who do we want to read it? What's in it for them? That's account planning - and would have been in 1906.)

It was account planners who were invented in Britain in 1968 - and, with the occasional hiccup and counter-revolution, then spread themselves benignly across the agency world. Instead of being what account executives or copywriters did cursorily or instinctively, planning became a discrete discipline practised by specialists. Not many people know this, but account planners were very nearly called brand planners. However, back in 1968, the word brand was applied only to soap powders and cereals - or FMCGs as they're so attractively known - so brand planner was thought to be too restrictive. Pity, really. It's an even better name now than it would have been then.

There are two kinds of account planner. There are those who think their job ends with the signing off of the creative brief. And there are those who believe that their job doesn't end until effective, inventive work has proved itself out there in the real world; at which point they're already planning what to do next. It's this second lot who are the true goodies. They know that developing good advertising is a continuous process involving wild guesses, insight, luck, gross error, persistence, experience, experiment, feedback and modification. They know that the best briefs become obvious only in re-trospect. In the words of Edward de Bono, "Sometimes you need to get to the top of the mountain to find the shortest way up."

In exactly the same way, there are two kinds of brand consultancies - and you'll never find it easy to work with the first. Your client will be deeply disappointed and you'll continue to get most of the blame. Only by converting both your client and the consultancy to an understanding of the eternal truth above do you even stand a chance.

Stephen King, joint parent and brilliant exponent of the planning discipline, famously placed account planners on a scale: with Grand Strategists at one end and Advert Tweakers at the other. It has been advertising agencies' preoccupation with the tweaking of adverts at the expense of creating grand strategies that has presented the brand consultancies with their market opportunity. Having wilfully surrendered this challenging territory, the agencies will find it extremely difficult to reclaim it.

Q: I am a graduate starting in a brand consultancy in September. What relationship do brand consultancies have with advertising agencies? Would one be approached by a client before the other or do they work simultaneously?

A: See above. And please be sure that you become one of the goodies. Unless you get involved with, and share responsibility for, the ultimate stuff, you'll be taking your salary under false pretences. The second way is much more difficult but when it works it's wonderful. The first way is not only irresponsible: it's also coitus interruptus.

Q: I've just moved to a new agency into a board-level role. My line reports aren't a bad lot but I can't help feeling that the people that worked for me at my previous agency are better - and there's one, in particular, who I know would be happy to move to work for me again. Should I give in to the temptation to bring in my own people or just make the best of what is a stable, if slightly uninspiring team?

A: I bet you anything you like that one of your new line reports (I hope that's not how you address them every morning?) is potentially brilliant but hitherto undiscovered. Don't make a move until you've identified who it is and given them more to do and more money to do it with. Once you've done that, and it's worked, you'll have earned the right to bring in people from your old agency: preferably one at a time. But if you do that first, people will think that you're: a) given to premature judgments; b) prone to favouritism; and c) professionally insecure. What's more, they'll be right.

- "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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