A: No. Thank God. Most of the worst decisions ever made by man have been based on a belief in absolute truth. One of the unsung glories of moderately civilised societies is the practice of competitive persuasion. We listen to competitive politicians and competitive businesses. We listen to counsel for the prosecution and counsel for the defence. We read what The Guardian says and what The Telegraph says; what Russia says and what Georgia says. And we stumble our way to our own imperfect opinions: on what to buy, who to vote for, who to imprison and who to set free. Tidy, it's not.
The fact that an issue is an issue at all means that almost without exception, it's not clear-cut. Assuming they're both professionally conducted, two pieces of research that reflect conflicting views on the same issue will have been based on different questions put at different times by different means in different places to different people. We should "believe" neither, but value both.
Q: It was always said that incumbent agencies are most unlikely to retain the account when asked to repitch, but, over the past year or two, there have been several instances where big clients have decided to stay put rather than move to a new agency. Is this a blip?
A: Somewhere in an ageing file I've got letters from anguished clients expressing deep shame at the decision they've just made to fire the agency I then worked for. They contain no hypocrisy; I know them to be genuine. Why then, you may well ask, did they fire us?
Because there's no such thing as a client: there are client companies. And companies contain a great many individuals with a great many different views and allegiances. As with electors at general elections, there'll be some who'll be longing for change and some who believe in continuity. (Only when it's embarrassingly obvious that every client executive is impatient for change should the incumbent agency throw in the towel immediately. Individuals may find it possible to change their minds, but institutionalised opinion tends to be immovable.)
If the incumbent can demonstrate strategic insight based on deep knowledge, and then translate that insight into spectacular execution, they'll always win. So I don't think it's a blip or a trend. I just think that a few bright incumbents have got it right recently.
Q: Francis MacGillivray writes: Dear Mr Bullmore, I am a 16-year-old boy going into year 11 and although I am at an early stage in my life, I am very sure that I want to go into advertising as my career. I read Campaign regularly and besides being very interesting, it has also been extremely useful in giving me knowledge and insight into the industry. I have already had work experience at a very successful digital agency during the summer. However, I am keen to get more exposure to adland at some well-known creative agencies to increase my knowledge and experience in the industry. Instead of following the usual process of submitting my CV, I would like to get noticed quickly and make a lasting impression without following the usual rigid and formal channels. Do you have any tips as to how I could approach these agencies without the receptionist dismissing me as soon as I enter their office building? I fully appreciate how busy you must be, but I would be very grateful for any advice and suggestions that you might have to offer.
A: Dear Francis, thank you for your letter. What I suggest is this. First, you should write to me at Campaign stressing your enthusiasm for advertising as a career and your determination to gain more experience at some well-known creative agencies. I will then publish your letter, which, with any luck, will be read by people of influence at a few such agencies. Unless the entire agency business has talked itself into terminal torpor because of the non-recession, there'll be one or two agencies intelligent enough still to be on the look-out for bright and enterprising young people. If I'm right, they'll want to get in touch with you directly; so I thought it might help them if I included your e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope that's OK by you.
Please let me know what response, if any, you attract: it will be a useful measure of the health and survival chances of the agency sector as a whole. I look forward, with your agreement, to publishing the results.
- "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 email@example.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.