Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

A marketing director writes: Jeremy, I'm sick of looking like a moron in the trade press.

How? Well, I keep a toe in with lots of agencies to ensure we're always employing the best creative services. My chief executive insists we don't speak to the press. Yet some plucky hack always seems to get wind that I've been in talks and confronts me. Toeing party line, I deny everything. Next minute, a story appears explaining everything, and ends with that glib line stating I "denied the review was in progress". How can I stop feeling like a nonce, especially on the odd occasions where we have ended up moving an account?

A: I'm sorry to say that the reason you're feeling like a nonce is the fact that you're behaving like a nonce - and it's no good blaming it on your chief executive.

Everything you do seems specifically designed to keep your existing agencies in a permanent state of unproductive uncertainty. It's possible, I suppose, that you derive some perverted pleasure from all this. Did you, when younger, focus your magnifying glass on ants' nests, I wonder?

But you're probably just thoughtless. And vain. I've only once experienced it myself, but I remember very clearly the heady sensation of being a potential client. How they flattered me, how they fell about at my most banal observations! I can quite understand that a marketing director, particularly one who's denied the ultimate trust of his chief executive, craves his weekly fix of fawning. However good your relationship with existing agencies, they'll never be able to satisfy your addiction to uncritical adulation.

If you honestly feel the need to visit other agencies on a regular basis, simply make that an open part of your regular routine. Tell your CEO, your existing agencies and the trade press of your intentions - and even provide them all with a proposed schedule of visits. (Reassure your CEO that you won't actually have to talk to the trade press: heavens, no. An e-mail will suffice.) This way, there'll be nothing for you to hide and nothing to deny. In other words, no story. Always report back to your existing agencies; once they know what you're up to, they'll not only relax but look forward to your de-briefs, particularly if they're gossipy and critical.

A word of warning, however. Once the agencies you choose to visit realise that they're just one of dozens, your reception may not be quite as warm as those you're used to. But since your mission is a purely professional one, that won't worry you at all.

Q: I'm the chief marketer at a telecoms company and I've just appointed a new agency. No sooner did we sign on the dotted line than I find out the agency is falling apart. The staff they used to win our business have all gone and I've lost faith in their ability to produce our ads. I'm still channelling work through our old agency, but I can't carry that practice on much longer without getting found out. What should I do?

A: I must admit that this week's crop of letters from marketing directors doesn't exactly fill me with respect for their competence and professional detachment. The giveaway phrase in your letter is "without getting found out". Here you are, having totally botched making an extremely important appointment - one that could materially affect your company's profitability - and all you can worry about is your own reputation. I won't bang on about your inexplicable failure to do due diligence or what your consultants thought they were up to (other than to suggest that you make their name widely known). Your only choice is to come absolutely clean right now. Leave it any longer and you'll be seen, by the entire marketing world, to be not only incompetent but also indecisive and untrustworthy.

If, on mature reflection, your old agency now seems strangely talented, then reappoint them with immediate effect. When your CEO raises eyebrows, under no circumstances be tempted to dissemble. By way of explanation, "I screwed up" is more than enough.

Only if you have serious doubts about the agency you fired should you re-embark on a full review. And this time, I seriously advise you to abandon the use of the singular possessive in favour of the plural. Marketing directors who talk about "my" agency and appoint them unilaterally are not only asking for trouble but - as you're now able to testify - will almost certainly get it.

Q: Dear Jeremy, how many marketing directors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: A timely question, thank you. The answer is one. They seem to be better at this.

- "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.