Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Would now be a good time for an agency to buy a bank? There must be a few bargains out there.

A: What an excellent idea. You'd need to borrow a bit, of course. But since the Government's just given the banks many billions of your money, they should be quite flush. Happy shopping.

Q: Dear Jeremy, I have just joined the marketing department of a large FMCG company and am enjoying an awful lot of responsibility considering my relative lack of experience. The trouble is that my ad agency, which has been working on the brand for six years now, seems to know an awful lot more about what I should be doing than I do. Should I admit to desperately needing its advice or would that undermine my authority?

A: Your lack of experience will be transparently obvious. The more strenuously you attempt to disguise it, the more pitiful you will appear. The only reason your authority hasn't yet been undermined is that it was never established in the first place.

You should invite your agency's full team to a two-day, off-site residential briefing session - for which your company pays. Do it immediately: it needn't be grand but neither should it be penny-pinching.

Ask them to tell you absolutely everything they've learned about your company, the market, their consumers and the competition. Ask them to talk you through all relevant research, emphasising any insights gained and any actions taken as a result. Ask them to show you not only your company's advertising and your competitors' advertising - but also any earlier advertising that was turned down by your predecessor or your marketing director. Ask them to give you their fearless opinion on the size of an ideal marketing budget. Try not to interrupt. Listen and take notes.

That evening, have a good dinner and play a silly game. Invite your agency to suggest the silly game. Don't go to bed too late.

Start the following day by reminding them all of a few real-life realities: about case-rates and margins and trade relationships and raw material prices and corporate social responsibility and distribution pressures and promotional commitments and holding company priorities. Don't forget R&D. Let them in on anything your R&D department is working on - and invite your agency to meet them soon.

If you know of any differences of opinion within your own company, reveal them. Do you have regional and international masters? Everybody knows that every company has its fair share of disagreement and politics; they only become destructive when concealed. Be seen to trust your agency.

Despite being a relative newcomer, you'll know more about all these matters than they will. Wherever possible, relate what you say back to what you heard on the previous day. Invite your main agency executive to fill the final session by describing any past frustrations and their ideal future relationship: contacts, reporting lines and approval procedures. Ask for a summary of the agency's past experience of marketing successfully through a recession.

Promise to bear all this in mind. Remind them it will never be perfect. Thank them with simple sincerity. Have lunch and leave.

If you're still uneasy about your agency relationship after all this, you may, I'm afraid, be terminally inadequate.

Q: A creative director beat the best planners in London to win Campaign's Battle of Big Thinking. Does this worry you?

A: It doesn't worry me. Neither does it surprise me. If anything, it reassures me. There is little more ridiculous, and little more likely to inhibit the emergence of outstanding advertising, than the relay-race model beloved of some agencies.

The account executive accepts a brief and passes it to the account planner. The account planner, in sterile isolation, does some planning - and passes it back to the account executive. The account executive passes it on to the creative team, possibly by e-mail or through the good offices of a traffic person: personal contact is not thought to be essential. The creative team, up until now quite uncontaminated by involvement, entirely reasonably ignores the brief and does something entirely different. And it's now the day before the presentation. The planning part is excellent and so is the creative part. The trouble is, they bear absolutely no relationship to each other.

The best creative people are instinctive, practised planners - and should be encouraged to plan. The best planners have an inbuilt inventive streak and should be encouraged to apply it. The best account directors, like the best feature film producers, have the power and the talent to bring beauty to disorder. If five different people lay claim to a great idea, they're all probably telling the truth. When a group works well, nobody should be certain who did what.

- Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.


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