Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I've been promoted to marketing director at my agency and now need to build a rapport with the trade press. Do you have any advice on how to keep at least three different journalists happy? I imagine it's what polygamy is like ...

A: I'm afraid I have little direct experience of polygamy but have always suspected that, given the nature of most husbands, wives would be only too pleased to share conjugal responsibilities. Trade journalists, on the other hand, like to convince themselves (and their editors) that they enjoy the exclusive respect and affection of their agency contacts and can safely rely on them for exclusive news.

Polygamy's a doddle by comparison. Your situation is much more akin to a Feydeau farce: you've got to be fantastically fast on your feet and make sure that only one of those bedroom doors is open at any given time. A couple of hours a day spinning plates on billiard cues may be your most practical preparation.

On the job, you should give each of those journalists exclusive access to your mobile (which naturally means carrying three mobiles and remembering which number you gave to which journo so that you can pick it up and say Melanie! while being reasonably confident that it isn't Trevor).

Unless your agency is unusually active, however, you may not find the equitable allocation of hot stories a problem. There may not be any hot stories. So when your trade press friends have been fed a diet of flatulent press releases for a couple of months, they'll soon look elsewhere for richer pickings. After that, of course, your only problem will be with your agency ...

Q: I've just had to bail one of my creatives out of jail after he was caught covering a train in graffiti. It isn't the first time he's pulled a stunt like this. Trouble is, his work is brilliant and I don't want to lose him. Where should I draw the line, for the sake of my business and shareholders, when it comes to employing a criminal?

A: Most of us agency ancient mariners spend a great deal of time mourning the tragic absence these days of real characters. We reminisce fondly of the time when Michael Johnson took off his trousers in the lift he was sharing with a potential client and when Llewelyn Thomas buried all the prizes in a Gillette promotion on Camber Sands but later couldn't remember where. Those were the days, we sigh nostalgically. That's what made the business such fun - and that's why the work was so good. Only original people can produce original advertising: but where are they now? Even the clients appreciated mingling with these eccentric characters: they didn't have any of their own back in Loughborough and it gave them something to talk about at the golf club.

So count yourself lucky. You've got one of the few genuine contemporary characters - and he's brilliant. When he stops being brilliant, you'll have to think again. But for the time being, resign yourself to plodding down to the station from time to time. It's called management.

Q: The account director at my agency has handed in her notice to go and set up an orphanage in Kenya. We're gutted as she was one of the reasons we hired the agency. Is there something we can do to stop her going?

A: Before you finally decide to select an agency, you should always ask yourself an extremely important if deeply unfashionable question: have the qualities that you've noted and admired been institutionalised? Yes, you've met half-a-dozen bright, engaging and inventive people: but are they rent-a-stars, already on their third agency in five years and thinking seriously about a start-up?

I realise that no cool dude of a marketing director is going to be happy with the thought of signing up an institution - however, true institutions have one huge and under-recognised advantage. Their accumulated wisdom and their commitment to training mean that your advertising account will never be perilously dependent on individuals.

There will be good people and there will be exceptional people but there will never be disastrous people. And please don't equate institutions with size. There are small institutions and great big ragbags.

If your agency is a true institution, you've nothing to fret about. You don't need to try and stop your account director defecting to Kenya. You should wish her well, confident in the knowledge that she'll be seamlessly replaced. But if she's the only reason you're happy with your agency, I'm afraid you've only yourself to blame. And you still can't stop her.

- "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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