A: Advertising agencies are professional optimists. That's why they exist.
Take the client company whose sole product is thermal paper for fax machines. Finding business sluggish, they put their advertising account up for review. Times being what they are, 15 agencies scramble to be included on the shortlist. Not one suggests that the client's problem may be product-centred. All paint a rosy future for thermal paper for fax machines - subject, of course, to repositioning, rebranding and spending a million or two on this category-breaking, envelope-pushing, multi-platform communications programme.
Agencies are constitutionally incapable of saying: 'Thanks for coming in, but however much you spend, nobody will want thermal paper for fax machines ever again - so get real."
So, of course, we all have to remain confident and upbeat. It's surprisingly easy as long as we perpetuate our proud tradition of ignoring the facts.
If it became generally known that the advertising world had become realistic, it would surely precipitate global meltdown.
Q: Dear Jeremy: My client is under huge cost pressures and this means she can't fill a key vacancy in her marketing department and it's causing problems. Her solution is to ask us to provide an "implant" who would remain on our books and be charged to them as a consultant, thus getting round their clampdown on headcount. Obviously, I'm keen to do this as it would not only do a big client a favour, it would give us an inside track on what's going on, plus we'd make a turn. However, she's nominated one of our key people who's not that keen - the client's offices make The Office look stylish - and he wants more money to take it on. The other problem is what happens at the end of the contract if our guy doesn't want to come back and is lured away by one of the other agencies on the roster? Or, worse, he actually gets to like being client-side, goes on some kind of power trip, stays there, and turns gamekeeper on us? I'm having my quarterly dinner with her managing director soon and I'm thinking I ought to blow the whistle on the whole thing. But before I do, any wise words?
A: Of all your many tantalising options, blowing the whistle to your client's managing director is certainly the simplest.
Within the span of a couple of sentences, you'll have shafted your day-to-day client and earned the contempt of her boss. Your key person, once nominated to be the implant and now denied the opportunity, will feel seriously deprived and demand compensation. Every other agency on your client's roster will know about it by Tuesday and Campaign by Wednesday. An agency review will be announced within the month, with your day-to-day client leading the adjudicating team. She will graciously grant you a place on the shortlist. Congratulations.
You should help your client in exactly the way she's asked you to. It doesn't have to be clandestine. You need to persuade your key player that this is an extraordinary opportunity for him to enrich his knowledge and his experience; and you'll be all the more persuasive as soon as you realise it's true. You may have to pay him a little more but what you get in return will be more than worth it.
You'll be left with your brimming basket of anxieties. Will this key person go native, will he be seduced by one of the other roster agencies, will he become power-crazed and fire you? A guaranteed method of converting one or more of these eventualities into reality is to hire a great many expensive lawyers to draw up a contract.
On pain of excommunication and the retrospective cancellation of all bonuses, your implant is required to swear permanent allegiance to you and your company. Ask him to sign here, please, in the presence of these impassive lawyers. Your message is clear. You might as well have said: "Dear Bill, I know you to be a devious shit and I wouldn't trust you out of my sight. I'm therefore going to shackle you to me for the rest of your working life."
You'll have lost Bill forever.
Your only option is to have trust, to show trust and to continue to demonstrate trust. He will want to come home only if home is quite clearly the most welcoming place to come home to. You had better make it that way.
- "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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.