Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

An agency chief writes: Dear Jeremy, we have been approached by the BBC to be the advertising agency in the latest series of The Apprentice. Should we take up the offer?

A: Television programmes have been featuring advertising agencies for 52 years now. ITV programmes are wholly dependent on ad revenue, BBC programmes are not. You might, therefore, think that ITV programmes and BBC programmes would portray ad agencies in very different lights. You would be wrong. Here is a newspaper review that has never been written of a TV programme that has never appeared.

"The Modern Alchemists (BBC2) shed fascinating light on one of this country's most misunderstood professions: marketing. Or rather, as this perceptive programme made clear, on the unobtrusive contribution to marketing made by advertising agencies. As donnish, diffident agency chief Rupert Howell put it to reporter Polly Toynbee, 'Advertising is the social and commercial lubricant that enables the wants and wishes of an enfranchised populace to be met by enlightened producers: with quality goods and services, competing between themselves for the custom of their sovereign consumers, at open, honest prices.' To Toynbee's initial surprise, but ultimate satisfaction, case history after case history from the Howell stable demonstrated this penetrating synthesis to be not only spot-on, but in all probability an understatement. Advertising agencies are indeed modern alchemists: transmuting crude materials into precious, valued 'brands' - for the benefit of rich and poor alike. Of what other profession can it be said that, through the application of scholarly research and inspired creativity, it enriches the lives of an entire nation?"

For 52 years, ad agencies have been agreeing to take part in TV programmes in the deluded belief that, however dismissively other agencies may have been treated by the medium, they, alone, will be seen to warrant a review along the lines of the one above. And for 52 years, they've been bitterly disappointed. "They stitched us up," they blub into their beers.

But as I think I've mentioned before, to seem ridiculous on television, agencies don't need to be stitched up by other people; we can stitch ourselves up, thank you very much. Any meeting about advertising is bound to contain at least two silly people saying silly things. Even sensible advertising people saying sensible things sound silly to outsiders. All the producer needs to do is let the camera roll. No fraudulent editing is required.

Despite all this, I've absolutely no doubt that you'll accept the BBC's flattering invitation. I much look forward to reading the reviews.

Q: I'm a junior marketer at an online travel company. I've been approached by one of the account team at our agency to arrange a cut-price holiday, "on the quiet". I like her and could arrange it, but I'm sure my marketing director would be up in arms. The problem is, she knows I booked one for a friend last year, and I'm worried that if I say no on this occasion, my agency contact will go over my head, my boss will find out and I'll be fired. I can't sleep at night for worrying as I'm sure this is all going to come back to haunt me. Help!

A: This is all very unconventional. The standard practice is for junior clients to ask improper favours of their ad agencies - not the other way round. I can't help feeling you're having a quite unnecessary panic.

Unless, of course, you're keeping something from me. If your relationship with this member of your account team has transgressed the bounds of the purely professional, you've asked for every sleepless night you're having. She thinks she's got you by the goolies.

I suggest you put a formal proposal to your marketing director that all agency staff - or at least, all members of your account team - are offered the chance to book holidays with you at a modest discount. It's not unusual. If he agrees, your problem's solved. And if he doesn't, you can tell your "friend" that your boss has clamped down on all cut-price jaunts; sorry, but there it is. All she can do by way of revenge is withdraw her favours; which, by the sound of it, you should welcome. Silly boy.

Q: I'm getting a lot of pressure from, well, pressure groups, staff and clients to dump my private jet and my SUV and green myself up. As the chief executive of a large ad agency, how can I get these liberal hippies off my case? Or shall I just quit now and eat carrots on a wind farm?

A: Just stop showing off.

- "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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