Opinion: On the Campaign Couch... with JB

A marketing director says: Our brand spokesman was splashed across the front page of the red- tops on Sunday in a sex and drugs scandal. Our creative agency thinks we can weather the storm, but I'm concerned about the negative publicity. Should we drop him?

Your creative agency thinks you can weather the storm because this particular brand spokesman was their original recommendation, they haven't got a stand-by campaign ready to roll, they won't be much affected themselves and anyway, what about Kate Moss? They might even be right, but I wouldn't bet on it. There aren't many brands that benefit from a close association with sex and drugs. What's more, you're paying him a fortune. And if they tell you that all publicity is good publicity, just mutter Michael Barrymore.

Stories like this can be dead by Wednesday or can run and run. Until you know which, pull everything and say nothing. Whoever drew up your spokesman's contract should have allowed for all this, including insurance cover. But I'm sorry you needed reminding that the only safe brand spokespersons are either Disney or dead.

I know my creative partner has been fiddling expenses and has ripped the company off for quite a substantial amount of money. I feel I should tell my superiors as I have a huge moral objection to this behaviour. However, we also work well together and win a lot of awards so I don't want to break the partnership. What should I do?

The first thing you should do is play Your Parents' Local Newspaper Game.

A small news story appears. It concerns a highly paid ("thought to earn well in excess of £100,000 a year") advertising art director who, despite earning four times the national average wage, has been found guilty of defrauding his company of substantial sums of money through fictional expense claims. The reason this small London news story appears in your parents' local newspaper is you. You, local boy made good, youngest son of Mr and Mrs You of Stapleton Avenue, are the guilty art director's partner. And it's reported that you'd long protected him from exposure because you wanted to go on winning prizes for your ads. When you visit your parents that weekend, the local newspaper is lying open on the kitchen table...

The whole point about this game, of course, is that it would never happen like that. Would it? So you don't have to worry, do you? The sooner you sort this out with your mate, the better. And you really shouldn't have had to ask.

Agency straplines - a good thing or a bad thing? I am involved in top-level discussions with the board about the future direction of the agency and the consensus believes the current one is tired and out of date. We have debated alternatives, but I have been alone in suggesting that we drop the strapline altogether in favour of just having the agency's name. Is it folly to suggest the agency name is enough?

Right. You have three minutes to write down the ten most memorable agency straplines of all time. OK? How did you do? I bet the only one you could remember is your own: you know, the one that's tired and out of date.

The thing about advertising agencies - and let's not waste time discussing what they're called these days; you know exactly what I mean - is that they don't need straplines. The reason they don't need straplines is because - unlike most of the brands they handle - they're judged on a single dimension. And that single dimension is being a good advertising agency.

This is what advertisers want: a bunch of honest and talented people who can connect their brand with the right people in a way that makes them a lot more money than it costs.

To do that simply-stated thing, agencies need to be good at absolutely everything. The moment you start plotting agencies on some Boston Grid - which is what you have to do when you go looking for a strapline - you start emphasising some component at the expense of the whole. Who wants to choose between creative, marketing, account service, new media, old media, planning, integration, insight, engagement, push or pull? You shouldn't have to choose. For well over 100 years, the best agencies have been those who've been best at making the most of whatever opportunities happen to be available at the time. And that's the way it's gonna be for the next 100 years.

Ask your board to name the agencies they most admire. Then ask them why. I bet they don't regurgitate a strapline.

"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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