Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the marketing director at a large media owner and have just held a creative pitch. The incumbent declined to repitch in a fit of pique that I'd called the pitch, then the ideas presented by the four agencies that did pitch were all rubbish. What should I do?

A: Did your incumbent agency tell you quite explicitly that they'd declined to repitch because they'd thrown a fit of pique? If so, they will have been the first to do so. I'm in awe of their honesty. Alternatively, their pique was merely your assumption, and not necessarily an accurate one. They may have despaired at your inability to judge ideas. Long months failing to satisfy a client who is wholly devoid of creative judgment can corrode the soul of the most conscientious of agencies. They may have decided, politely of course, to leave you to drown in your own indecisiveness.

I don't expect you to accept this interpretation. Expecting clients to accept that they're devoid of creative judgment is to expect the tone deaf to appreciate perfect pitch. But now that you've put your brief to four new agencies and - at least in your view - they've all come up with total rubbish, I think you should consider your position.

Clients devoid of creative judgment have two stark choices: never again take any responsibility for any part of their companies' communications; or pick an agency of repute and accept every last detail of their recommendations with blind faith.

That's what Hathaway Shirts did with David Ogilvy about 60 years ago. Both client and agency prospered mightily. It's high time somebody did it again. So go back to your incumbent agency and astonish them. Tell them you'll accept every last detail of their recommendations for the whole of 2007 without question or quibble. By 2008, you'll either be a shoo-in for Marketing Director of the Year or you'll be looking not only for a new agency but a new employer as well.

Go on. Dare you.

Q: Do conflict shops work? As a client I remain unconvinced at how truly independent these offerings are.

A: As I'm sure you know, for the best part of half a century conflict shops weren't called conflict shops. They were positioned as brave, new agencies that combined the best of the institutionalised virtues of their respected sibling with the creative freedom of an upstart start-up while in no way suggesting that they were in the least bit preferable to, or come to that inferior to, their genetic senior: or indeed, vice versa. In the event, this positioning lacked something. Truth, perhaps. It was no more persuasive than Dunlop when they proudly announced: Now There Are Two Kinds of Best. Anyway, that's how conflict shops were doggedly described; but were, of course, always known as conflict shops.

Nonetheless, I don't think you should worry about their independence. If there's one thing that drives and unites all conflict shops it's the prospect of discomforting their complacent siblings. If they can take on an account that's directly competitive with a sibling's biggest, and then beat the bejeezers out of it, that's pure heaven. Holding companies may cluck disapprovingly but canny clients can benefit. If you're being stalked by an extremely small agency, whose much bigger sibling in the same group happens to handle your most formidable competitor, look at that small agency with real interest. Who cares about their motives? You'll get cosmic commitment.

Q: An agency managing director asks: "I've been 'invited' by my boss to head up the launch of our new conflict shop as chief executive. So far, we don't have any clients and it feels like a promotion in name only. Am I being quietly defenestrated?"

A: I hope by now you'll have read my answer to the question above. If you accept this questionable invitation, your greatest problem will be the construction of a credible credentials presentation. You will be tempted to position your new agency as combining the best of the institutionalised virtues of your established sister agency with the creative freedom of an upstart start-up while in no way suggesting you are in the least bit preferable to, or come to that inferior to, your established sister agency or indeed, vice versa. You are, you say in conclusion, simply two kinds of best. This is the presentation you should clear with your boss, who will congratulate you warmly, but which you should under no circumstances actually use.

Instead, tell the truth: you - and your total staff of seven - are implacably committed to making an agency that was started for the wrong reasons succeed for the right ones. That way, you might even do it.

- "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@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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