Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: An agency chief writes: "My creative department is spending too much time on charity work; it wins awards, but doesn't contribute to our bottom line. How can I rein them back without appearing to be a heartless brute?

A: I'm afraid to say that you're one of those agency chiefs who give agency chiefs a bad name. I applaud your interest in bottom lines but despair at your failure to understand them.

This is what you tell your clients. You tell them that if they want to be decently profitable and withstand the rapacious pressures of the distributive trades, they must market not products, but brands. A strong brand has an earned reputation for style, quality and consistency: that's why people single it out, shop around for it, are happy to pay more for it. Agencies, too, are brands; or should be. Not many make it. Few seem even to try. The reason you should strive to become a strong brand is because you'll make more money. If you're to remain uncowed in the presence of the procurement police, you must be the proud possessors of some intangible quality that makes clients want you. And as every survey confirms, what clients want in agencies is something called creativity: the more creative you are thought to be, the less painful your fee negotiations. Unfortunately, however, there is no globally recognised creativity measurement; other, that is, than those based on the number of awards an agency wins. You may think all this is a bit ridiculous and I would agree with you; but that's how it is. And here you are, planning to demotivate the only people who are giving you any kind of brand strength. Instead, thank them warmly for what they're doing and challenge them to do the same on your mainstream accounts. That's the jackpot. It will be up to you to guard against irresponsible irrelevancies.

Q: I was recently exposed as being a sugar-daddy and frequenting a website where I could meet ladies who are considerably younger than me by a Sunday newspaper. Despite not being named in the piece, I feel that everyone knows. Could this harm me professionally, do you think? Does everyone know or am I being paranoid?

A: You're being paranoid.

Q: I've just completed a creative pitch. Four agencies presented. Problem is, the one with the best strategy was staffed by the people I liked the least. There was one agency where I felt a rapport with the team, but their idea was mediocre. What do you advise?

A: When you come across people who think like you, find the same things funny and reach much the same conclusions, it's impossible not to like them, isn't it? If they're so much like you, it stands to reason that they're lovely. Were you looking for someone to marry, you'd be doing fine. But you're not; you're looking for people who can do things that you can't. In case you'd forgotten, that's the whole point of taking on a creative agency.

Which do you think your company would value more: a mediocre idea from lovely people; or an excellent idea that you could never have thought of by yourself?

There are all sorts of soppy relationships between advertisers and their agencies. They positively love their meetings, they celebrate each other's birthdays and even go to Twickers together - but they rarely produce the best work. The advertiser finally gets a new marketing director, a review is called and up goes the cry of disloyalty.

You should go and see the agency that produced the best strategy and ask if you can spend a couple of days with them. Only if you conclude that their first idea was a complete fluke and you find their company utterly repellent should you be tempted back to the lovely ones.

Q: I was recently in charge of the publicity for a very big senior hiring our agency made, but when Campaign reported it, they said our agency had no profile, which has upset the management. How can I make things better?

A: It was Dave Flower, as I'm sure you remember, who famously said: "Advertising is worth doing when you've done something worth advertising." If your management thinks that the routine announcement of a senior hiring constitutes hot news, no wonder your agency's invisible. The way to get a high profile, as Flower suggests, is first to do things - get accounts, win awards, start a must-read blog - and only then talk about them. It's your management's job to do things; and then yours to get them talked about.

- "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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