Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, as a fortysomething suit I've just been offered a cross-border job in Eastern Europe. It's been packaged up as a big promotion, but I'm sceptical. Do you think these international roles now carry more prestige than they used to?

A: The trouble with people like you is that you hope to inherit prestige rather than earn it. I've no idea whether these international roles carry more prestige than they used to. It's irrelevant.

What's relevant is if you can make something of this job. Do it well, bring something of value to the party, come back with new wisdom, new humility, a new language or two, and a better understanding of the importance of cultures: and you'll be set fair for whatever corporate summit you've set your heart on. You'll also have invested your cross-border job with a prestige that a lot of people as foolish as you will from now on lust after for all the wrong reasons.

That once fool-proof method of plying people with alcohol to pitch for new business doesn't quite do the trick these days. Can you suggest alternatives, or, heaven forfend, do I need to rely on the quality of my work?

I think you must have been reading one of those historically questionable books about our surprisingly respectable trade. Mad Men hasn't helped. Was there ever a time when the application of alcohol landed new business? If so, it was long before my time. In which case, it must have been a very long time before your time. Personal relationships, yes. Ephemeral reputations, yes. Spurious fee deals, yes. Vindictiveness, yes. They may all come into it. But most account moves, however much they may be regretted later, are based on the client's wistful conviction that the new agency has a demonstrable ability that the old agency hasn't; and that as a result, the client's business will benefit.

In no way do I discount the importance of PR; of thoughtful publications; of schmoozing; of networking; of offering access to influential networks; of fee deals.

But I'm delighted to tell you that if you want not only to acquire business but also to retain it, a demonstrable record of delivery is still the only thing that really matters.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I keep hearing people talking about Branded Utility. Is it time for advertisers to "give something back" by creating useful products and services for people that are free but carry an implicit commercial message about their brand?

A: Branded Utility may be a shiny new phrase, but what it describes is as old as marketing. And I don't mean that dismissively: it's always been a good idea.

About 70 years ago, I was an Ovaltiney and wore shiny enamel badges to prove it. The backs of cereal boxes helped me learn about geography and wild animals. For as long as I can remember, good bookshops have inserted branded bookmarks into the books they sell. Shell's guides to the countryside were beautifully produced and heavily subsidised. The Aga cookbook has sold far more units than the Aga itself.

The idea of achieving greater involvement with consumers by providing them with interesting and helpful branded things was more widespread in the 30s to the 50s than it is now. But all such activity was lumped into a below-the-line, below-the-salt category called "sales promotion" - and, therefore, beneath contempt for celebrity marketing directors and pot-hunting creatives. Ever since the arrival of television, brands, their owners and advisors have been obsessed with what brands say at the expense of what brands do. When we judge a politician, we listen carefully to what he has to say and how he says it. But we also note his behaviour, his actions, his eyes, his movements. Body language, we call it: and it's very rich and full of significance. It tells us a lot.

Brands have body language, too - but few consciously and consistently set out to develop it. Branded Utility, for all the opacity of the name, may herald a welcome return to a mutually beneficial form of marketing. But please don't look upon it as "giving something back". The exchange of money for a good brand should always be a fair swap. Nobody's lost. Branded Utility just means investing a little more money and imagination in the hope of earning a little more loyalty. That's a fair swap, too.

But until there's a Branded Utility Festival staged in the South of France with the winners paraded along La Croisette in open-topped Bugattis, don't expect progress to be rapid. And somebody will have to work out a way to charge for it.

- "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.