Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: A marketing director writes: Jeremy, my agency was always comfortably in line with my political outlook.

Now it's just gone and switched allegiances. Should I fire them? It will, after all, teach them a lesson and avoid the endless ribbing I'm receiving by my public school alumni at dinner parties.

A: I don't suppose your chief executive reads Campaign and, even if he does, I don't suppose he'd be able to identify you. And that's a pity - because it's high time someone told you that the first person singular possessive is no way for a marketing director to refer to an advertising agency.

It's one thing for you and your public school chums to refer to "me tailor": you pay the bills, eventually anyway. But your agency is not your personal servant, to be hired, exploited and fired unilaterally. I bet there's nothing you enjoy more than taking their drinks, hogging the conversation, telling long-winded anecdotes in which you yourself figure heroically - and then basking in their smarmy appreciation. An agency that agrees with you about absolutely everything is of no value whatsoever to your company. You should be delighted about their new political allegiance.

Q: A marketing director writes: I always thought the environment of an advertising agency had to be funky, organic and stimulating to produce good work. Yet, the agency I've appointed makes the office of a global auditing firm look like creative space for artistic bohemians. Am I invariably destined for dull advertising?

A: Did you choose this agency, sight unseen, over the internet? Or pick it from a catalogue? Or was it your procurement person who insisted you went for the agency with the lowest price, irrespective of merit?

If none of the above, then I'm baffled. You must, surely, have paid them a speculative visit or two? So why, if you find its offices so dispiriting, did you sign them up?

Funny people, clients. Almost as difficult to fathom as consumers.

Nevertheless, you shouldn't despair too soon. I don't know many agencies that set out to look organic (unprocessed? crude?), but those that are ostentatiously funky are often as fraudulent as fake tan - and fade just as quickly.

Furthermore, as you should have noticed by now, both the nation and the communications industry are entering an age of New Seriousness. I don't suppose you can remember a single thing that our new prime minister has actually said - but simply by being there and looking serious he's seen off pestilence, floods and the first run on a bank since 1866. Seriousness is in.

In our own small world, planning is staging a muscular comeback. And not that fanciful, whimsical, hunch-driven planning that's about as dependable as an astrologer's forecast, but intellectually rigorous planning that doesn't just generate wonderful hypotheses but is then prepared to subject them to the most brutal of cross-examinations. Serious planning.

Agencies who believe in serious planning don't need funky offices. You may, accidentally it seems, have stumbled on one. Give them a chance and you could be in for a delightful surprise.

Quite soon now, I expect, funky agencies, belatedly recognising The New Seriousness, will rip out their trophy cabinets and replace them with back copies of the International Journal of Advertising.

Q: A graduate writes: I have been offered graduate trainee jobs by an advertising agency and a stockbroker. The agency is promising a great social life, parties and tonnes of fun rather than "long hours and monotonous number-crunching". But the City offers a lot more cash and promises more than "tossy haircuts and getting beaten up by a client and creative department for a living". I'm torn. Any thoughts?

A: A very long time ago I was asked to interview a Cambridge graduate who'd applied for a job at the agency. I told him as much as I knew about the business, most of it truthfully, and then asked if he had any questions. "Yes," he said. "I have two. Is your pension scheme non-contributory and do you give Luncheon Vouchers?" He was 21 and was after a job in the creative department.

There are people who are born to be stockbrokers and there are people born to go into advertising. At your age, let instinct rule. If you fret obsessively about starting salaries and pension schemes, then you're probably a stockbroker. If you relish diversity and uncertainty - and relish wit more than calculation - you're probably an advertising person. Only you can tell.

- "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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