Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm the UK marketing director for a well-known car brand. I keep getting calls from journalists who are on to the fact that I'm reviewing my roster of agencies.

My knee-jerk reaction is to keep schtum and say nothing because I don't want my competitors to get wind of what I'm doing. But I know what the trade press is like, they'll write a story anyway. So should I just give them a quote to stop the incessant phone calls?

A: You have a "roster" of agencies. That must mean at least three. You are reviewing them all. That means that you have at least 15 other agencies on your long list. Add in the consultant you're using and quite soon there will be at least 19 companies who know, at least in part, what you're up to. The trade press is already on to you and ours is a small and intensely gossipy village. What makes you think that your competitors, who also have rosters of agencies and contacts with the trade press, will be the only inhabitants of this tiny village to remain in ignorance of your goings-on?

Furthermore, try as hard as I can, I can't for the life of me see what you're fretting about.

Scene: one of your competitor's corporate offices somewhere in a bleak location outside London.

Marketing Director: "Hot news! Colin Thrust at GBH is reviewing his roster of agencies! Now's our chance!"

Managing Director: "Now's our chance to do what?"

Marketing Director: "Let me get back to you on that one, Gareth."

So calm down, tell everyone the truth, make it clear that the lists are closed and decide on a timetable. Then stick to it. Not much fun for the trade press, of course, but that's their problem. You don't have one.

Q: I am a marketing director of a big company and I could not be happier with the performance of both my marketing manager and my agency. However, news has reached me that my employee and a high-level member of the agency staff are having an affair (both have partners). I don't want to lose them, but I morally object. What should I do?

A: You are, of course, fully entitled to find their behaviour morally unacceptable. However, I'm not at all sure that an employer is entitled to impose his own, personal moral standards on his underlings. Before confronting your employee, therefore, dig out their contract of employment. Since yours is a big company, and big companies have HR departments, and HR departments love drafting hugely long and comprehensive contracts that insure them against every conceivable eventuality, I'd be amazed if your employee's contract didn't contain a clause specifically prohibiting the type of liaison you describe. And the justification, of course, is not a moral one but a purely practical one: a relationship of this kind can prejudice judgments, confuse the workers and be generally deleterious (excellent HR word) to business efficiency.

So if I were you, I would have an avuncular conversation with your marketing manager in which you make it clear that it's no business of yours what he does after hours just as long as he doesn't do it with a supplier. If he (she?) has any sense, she (he?) will arrange for someone else from the agency to take over your account: and preferably someone of the same sex. (Though in these liberated days, even that's not foolproof, of course.)

Before taking any action, however, do check your sources very carefully. Not all rumours of illicit affairs turn out to be well founded. You could end up looking foolish, priggish and prurient: not ideal for a man with a strong, guiding moral compass.

Q: A marketing director writes: "I have a long-held belief that research and testing are a waste of time - the most successful campaigns that I've worked on have been more a case of creative alchemy than measurable econometrics. But my new chief executive swears by research. How can I convince him that my instinct for a good campaign is to be trusted?"

A: However much you may despise research, I'm surprised you haven't learnt to respect research findings. While traditional, plodding marketing directors commission research, others simply commission research findings. You could be one of them. Uncannily, research findings invariably corroborate their commissioner's instincts.

This will greatly reassure your new chief executive. Or it will until both your instincts and your research findings blow a year's budget on a complete bummer. And that, I'm sorry to have to tell you, can only be a matter of time.

- "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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