Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a creative director at a large network agency in London. I've been charged with the task of raising the creative bar at the agency and winning international awards.

This means my best teams are forced to focus on small accounts which pay next to nothing, while our bread-and-butter accounts play second fiddle. Now I'm facing criticism that we're not winning enough new business. My department is stretched to breaking point and the goalposts keep moving. What should I do?

A: I'll return to your question in a moment. Meanwhile, allow me to address a few lofty remarks to a wider readership.

Clients like to claim that they never read Campaign - so try this simple test. Leak a story that your biggest client's biggest competitor has approached your agency. Come Thursday, make sure you get in early. Your phone will ring by 9.08 at the latest and the call will start: "It's been brought to my attention ..."

Clients do read Campaign - though I wish they didn't. Take the letter above, and read it through the eyes of a marketing director. Every lowest suspicion is instantly confirmed. His agency secretly despises his account as bread-and-butter business and the creative director is instructed to transfer his most talented people to tiny accounts in the hope of picking up some silverware.

Marketing directors, like football managers, are vulnerable people. They quite reasonably expect a great deal from their agencies but what they most expect is this: that you be on my side. To know that you're tolerated for your money alone is a terrible truth to live with.

And so, sir, finally, to your question. If there are any principled agencies left, you should join one. Principled agencies attempt to do engaging work for all their clients. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don't: engaging work is difficult to do. Occasionally, engaging work done on a mainstream brand may even catch the insecure eye of an international juror and win something - but that's not why it was done. It was done because it was believed to be in the best interests of those who paid for it. If you can find a home in such an agency, take it. You'll never have to write to me again.

Q: With all of today's emphasis on effectiveness, ROI and measurability in advertising, do you think the day may be near when we'll be able to tell which 50 per cent of our advertising it is that actually works?

A: This little question contains two large misconceptions. The emphasis on effectiveness, ROI and measurability (some time you must explain to me exactly how they differ) is not a new phenomenon. Books have been written on the subject for more than 60 years. You probably don't think of DM as advertising - though, of course, it is - but accountability is the source of DM's success. I bet you've never even heard of split runs.

And then there's this 50 per cent thing. The whole world knows that the first Lord Leverhulme (or alternatively John Wanamaker) once said: "I know that half my advertising is wasted; the only trouble is, I don't know which half." And as I laboriously point out every ten years or so, the whole world is wrong. There is no evidence that either gentleman ever said anything at all along these lines; which is just as well because, on examination, the statement's meaningless. Just you try spending the second half of your advertising budget without having spent the first.

As Burleigh B Gardner and Sidney J Levy pointed out in March 1955: "... it is more profitable to think of an advertisement as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image - as part of the long-term investment in the reputation of the brand."

Fifty-two years later, this great insight is both tacitly accepted and widely ignored. Good advertising goes on making a contribution to the reputation of the brand, so none of it is wasted. There may, however, be a declining return - which is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Please don't ask me this question for another ten years.

Q: I've just had a call from one of the trade mags telling me that they're about to go to press on my move to a new agency. Apparently, they've commissioned an illustrator, written the headline, and laid out the page. Granted, I did have conversations with the agency about the position in question, but I declined the offer. What should I do?

A: Fabulous free publicity ... your present agency alerted to your desirability ... plus ten-out-of-ten for loyalty. What should you do? Try gloating.

- "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.