Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Dear Jeremy, my board has just announced it's cutting our ad budget by 25 per cent ... without telling me first.

I'm the marketing, director for heaven's sake. I can see that in the current climate the company needs to be seen to make cuts, but why should marketing be the quick fix at the top of the list? And why should my board assume it doesn't need careful discussion with their marketing team?

A: All companies harbour civil wars. In good times, they're waged invisibly, like slow-burning fires deep in a peat field. They can be largely ignored. Come a recession, however, and they're cruelly exposed.

In the blue uniform is the visionary and in the red uniform, the pragmatist. Because the visionary is a visionary, he talks of intangibles: of the difference between a product and a brand, of something called a non-functional discriminator; of the impact of fame on margins; of the need to invest for the future with something called share of voice. The pragmatist listens to all this with raging internal contempt - but in good times, in silence. Despite the visionary's vacuous wittering, the figures are OK.

To the pragmatist, the bottom line is the bottom line. And suddenly, the bottom line for 2009 is looking bloody 'orrible.

Pragmatists love crises. Look at Gordon Brown. In times of crisis, pragmatists - armed to the teeth with solid, reliable numbers - become hugely reassuring and heroic figures. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, a visionary may be heard bleating about the crucial importance of investing in brand equity (or soul, or essence), which may or may not provide an invaluable competitive edge for when the company may or may not emerge from the recession in late 2012.

So I'm sorry. You failed to make your entirely legitimate case when good times reigned. It's much too late now.

Q: This economic climate has made me think I should perhaps ditch my retained agency and employ specialists to work on projects on an ad-hoc basis as and when I need them. Is this a dangerous route?

A: It would scare me witless, but I expect you're a great deal more conscientious than I am.

One hugely important function of a good agency, and one that often goes unrecognised, is to act as a proxy brand guardian. When client companies go through their own periods of turmoil or doubt, or when that whiz-kid new marketing director turns out to be nothing more than a fame-seeking missile, a good and knowledgeable agency can act as sage and stabiliser. Most great companies, however steeped they may be in the culture of brands, will cheerfully concede that there have been times when their agencies have shown a surer touch than their own marketing people. And all this you contemplate ditching.

Well, as long as you're there all the time, I suppose; and as long as you're prepared to brief and monitor all those many specialists yourself; and as long as you can stop them devoting most of their creative energy to raiding each other's bits of your budget: yes, I suppose you might just get away with it. Certainly, at times like these, you shouldn't put your own wellbeing before that of your company. In two or three years' time, you'll be able to see your family again, I expect - and maybe even take a short holiday. But just remember that, with no back-up, and no handily available scapegoat, there'll be absolutely nothing between you and the next quarter's numbers; and then the next ...

Very courageous, as Sir Humphrey used to say in Yes Minister.

Q: What one lesson should we take from Barack Obama's skilful use of advertising during the US election?

A: Money, good. More money, better.

At the start of the campaign, the Republicans were deeply unpopular: few polls gave them a serious chance.

John McCain's campaigning budget was $360 million, Obama's $640 million. On television alone, Obama outspent McCain by $80 million.

Each vote gained cost McCain $6.33. Each vote gained cost Obama $9.88.

Obama ended up with 52.5 per cent of the popular vote and McCain 46.2 per cent: a difference of no more than 6.3 percentage points of market share.

If those were the bare statistics in an IPA Effectiveness submission, you wouldn't expect Obama to merit a mention.

I totally understand the European euphoria and I'd certainly have voted for Obama myself. But what few seem to have noted is that if the two candidates' marketing budgets had been transposed, so too might their final scores.

- "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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