Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: What are the best criteria for selecting an ad agency?

1. Ask to see everything they've published - in print, online, at conferences, anywhere - over the past three years. If it's all about them - and how wonderful, successful and unorthodox they are - move on immediately: they clearly don't understand the fundamentals of good advertising. If they haven't published anything, move on immediately: they clearly don't understand the value of advertising. If what they've published is all about how to make brands more profitable, with convincing examples, shortlist them. They may know what advertising is for.

2. Ask the three agencies you've short-listed if you can work with them for a month. Pay them for their time. Hire the one you enjoy working with the most and buy the others a good lunch.

Q: Do you think the marketing world is in danger of over-hyping the significance of digital again?

A: Yes and no with reservations. Why do we call it digital? Digital is a precise technological term with few inherent advertising implications - and everything will be digital by Monday week anyway. When even the oldest of media are digitised, including posters, how increasingly silly we all sound.

What we can't ignore is the effect of digitisation and the existence of the internet. Those who think it will all go away simply because treatyourgerbiltoanelectrichammock.com went bust are wrong. So are those who believe that internet advertising will render all other forms of advertising redundant. So are those who believe that blogging will replace mass communication. And so are those who claim to know exactly what's going to happen next because nobody does. I strongly recommend scouring Amazon and second-hand bookshops for copies of the works of Alvin Toffler and other best-selling futurologists of the late 20th century. They are hilariously wrong about just about everything - and I can't tell you what a liberating realisation that is.

Keep Buggering On, as David Ogilvy liked to say. Keep all options open, try to be good at everything, feel free to change your convictions on a daily basis and be prepared for confusion. In times of confusion, clever people are in great demand.

Q: I sit in an open-plan office and I can't bear the person I sit next to. She's noisy on the phone, is always interrupting me with anecdotes about her personal life, and laughs out loud when she receives an e-mail that she thinks is funny. Would it be unprofessional of me to ask my manager to move?

A: I'm not clear. Why do you want your manager to move? Or is your manager the person you can't bear who sits next to you? Or did you mean, would it be unprofessional were you to ask your manager if you could move? Whatever else, you must learn to make yourself more clearly understood.

You must also learn self-confidence and low cunning. This trade of ours has little time for timidity. The obvious trick is to provoke your exasperating neighbour into demanding a move herself. So scratch yourself constantly, cover your face with gentian violet, sneeze without recourse to Kleenex, leave ripe camembert beside your desk, download half-witted ringtones, cut two small holes in your Daily Mail and gaze at her through them: come on, think for yourself for a change.

Q: An agency chief executive writes ... Campaign hates us. They take every opportunity to take a swipe at us. From diary stories to news stories about our losses. They don't even appreciate our brand of creativity. We've had many meetings with the team: presenting our work to them, lunching them, trying to explain our ethos of putting our clients first, which means putting stories in the marketing press instead of Campaign, but they don't understand us. How can we stop them giving us such a hard time?

A: Have you ever been in the middle of an extremely noisy drinks party, unable to decipher what even those nearest to you are mouthing, when, suddenly, from a distant corner of the room, with crystal clarity, you hear you own name spoken? That's what we of the communications elite call selective perception. And it's what you're suffering from. Not only are you convinced that Campaign hates you; I bet you're also convinced that Campaign is uncritically in love with three of your most loathsome competitors. What you don't know is that two of those three are convinced that Campaign hates them. As far as I can make out, the only thing that Campaign hates is being lied to.

- "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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