Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm 43 and have been doing my creative director job happily for seven years with, if I say so myself, a fair few lion- and pencil-shaped pieces of evidence that prove I'm good. But I'm getting bored and a digital agency is making me a tempting offer to quit the mainstream ad industry to make virals and whatever else they do. Is it beneath me to accept their offer?

A: Thank you for this very timely question. Through cunning detective work, I identified the CEO of the digital agency in question and e-mailed him as follows.

Dear Fergus, you're mad. Here's the creative director of an old-fashioned agency who, at only 43, is bored by advertising; who rates his achievements on the single measurement of creative awards; and who has no idea what you do, hasn't stirred himself to find out, yet nonetheless knows it's beneath him. This is a man (I just know it's a man) who's so out of touch with the real world that he still believes his narrow and anachronistic craft to be mainstream. Why are you offering this self-satisfied dunce more money than you're paying yourself?"

He replied as follows.

"Dear Jeremy, thank you for your unsought advice. What makes you think I needed it? As you surely recognise, it's all about brand positioning, credibility and the battle for the centre ground. Traditional agencies flounder when they try to do digital. They hire a few nerds and then bury them. Or they claim to do digital with their existing elitists, then fail to deliver. Traditional agencies will never hire or acquire digital credibility. They'll never crack their addiction to The Reel. Digital agencies, on the other hand, have two overwhelming advantages. They represent The Future. And clients are so mindlessly convinced that they need some that they haven't yet started to ask any of those awkward questions about accountability. To occupy the centre ground, all digital agencies have to do is take on a few over-paid and over-rated traditionalists. Their contribution, naturally, will be more to our image than to our output. And, we shan't need them for very long."

I do hope that this cordial exchange helps you determine your future.

Q: A client writes: Now that I am working with more specialist agencies, I find myself faced with more and more new faces around the boardroom table. This seems to be contributing to confusion between the various disciplines and I'm concerned it may affect the quality of work. How can I encourage greater cohesion between the agencies?

A: If any serious historian bothers to write a history of advertising, 1990-2020, this is the question that will baffle them most: at precisely the time that advertisers universally recognised the crucial commercial need for integration and cohesion in their marketing communications, why did the suppliers of those communications splinter into a thousand disintegrated shards?

I have every sympathy with your predicament. You must surely long for the return of the full-service agency, where you could with some confidence entrust your entire budget to a single grown-up. It's a massive irony that the full-service agency faded from the scene at exactly the moment when its existence would have been most appreciated. As you've painfully discovered, supplier fragmentation has left the external role of over-arching, omni-channel, media-neutral, dispassionate communications counsellor unoccupied. Though many claim, few convince.

Until the centre ground is recaptured, I fear you have only one choice: and that's to bring the role of communications czar back in-house. There was once a cadre of exceptional advertising directors: splendid people, esteemed by their boards, who knew their brands and who knew their suppliers and who could bribe and cajole and threaten and flatter them into benign compliance. But of course, to compound the irony, just when such figures would have even more valuable, the breed died out.

Could you yourself be such a person? If not, perhaps you'd better get one in.

Q: From an agency creative: What do clients really think of awards? Do they rate creative accolades or are they only interested in effectiveness awards?

A: Clients put no value whatsoever on creative awards. I know that because they've told me so. (But they can't help wondering why it is that their own agency never seems to win any.)

Effectiveness awards, on the other hand, are altogether good: but they, of course, are simply a testament to the client's marketing excellence.

- "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.