Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: When our agency is presenting its work to our marketing team, in which order should we respond? Is it best to start with the most junior member of our team and work upwards in seniority, or vice-versa beginning with me?

A: It's entirely up to you. Some clients much enjoy humiliating their subordinates while simultaneously wrong-footing the agency. You may be one of them. In which case, wait until your agency has finished its 90-minute, 72-deck, £50 million presentation, backed up by professionally produced video and preliminary research findings; then turn to your newly recruited assistant brand manager (retail) and say: "Well, Beverley? How does that grab you?"

You may be entirely sure Beverley isn't going to love it unconditionally. Love something unconditionally and you've labelled yourself a novice; a provincial pushover far too easily impressed by Soho adspeak and a 72-deck PowerPoint presentation.

So Beverley says that, while the recommendations clearly have some superficial appeal, there are one or two aspects - perhaps trivial, perhaps not - that might need rather more considered attention ...

Emboldened, Zack wonders if the basic premise stands up ...

Barbara, speaking from a purely woman's perspective - "but they are, of course, our core constituency" - finds the characterisation, though obviously intended to be humorous, possibly open to accusations of sexism ...

Lionel wonders if the present economic climate doesn't demand something rather more straightforward and commercial: 'I'm all for sugaring the pill and all that - but let's not forget those seventeen thousand cases in the Loughborough warehouse."

You forced your subordinates to flounder. Now you'll never know what they think and neither will they. And the agency is already on the defensive.

So well done. Hope you enjoyed it.

The way this 50 million quid is going to be spent is ultimately your decision. That's why you're paid more than the others. That's why you've got to be the first to speak. First, thank the agency. Then give a clear if general indication of your own opinion: it needn't be any more specific than broadly encouraging or broadly concerned. Remind the agency that they've had several weeks to absorb all this while you and your team have had less than two hours: they mustn't expect instant rhapsody. Then invite your team to give their immediate reactions. They'll take their lead from the tone you set but will feel free to comment - just as it should be.

Not nearly as much fun, I agree - but you'll be earning your salary, the work will be better and the agency will respect you.

Q: My agency is pretty good in all departments but one - its documents often have typos. These spelling errors get to the point where they can undermine the content, even though the thinking is sound, and the ideas often pertinent. Am I being irrational?

A: No. My only question is why you've let this go on for so long.

Take your account director (or senior vice-president, Global Business Unit) out to lunch. Remind him that he's in a competitive business and that competitive agencies are always pestering you and your colleagues with offers, bribes and blandishments. Inform him that not all your colleagues are immune to such approaches and some are already disposed to look around. Remind him that what finally provokes many a Priscilla to sue for divorce is Roland's repeated failure to put the top back on the toothpaste tube. And just in case he still hasn't got it, give it to him straight: from now on, ten typos equal one strike; and three strikes and you're out.

You'll find things get better quite quickly.

Q: A government-backed body with a big ad budget wants to know the sexual orientation of myself and my senior managers as part of the tendering process. What the hell has this got to do with how well we can handle its business?

A: "Outrageous! Completely unacceptable! Another example of the Orwellian erosion of our rights to personal privacy! If it isn't actually illegal, it bloody well should be!"

On the whole I agree with you, but I find it more ridiculous than sinister. Absurdities are best dealt with not by outrage but by blithe contempt. Some lowly box-ticker has triumphantly invented a new box. Ignore it.

Give them the answers they obviously want. Don't even bother to tell your colleagues; they'll only have temper tantrums.

This is probably the advice I'd give you even if the budget was tiny.

- "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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