Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I've just turned gamekeeper to poacher and I'm stunned how beautiful agency people are compared to client-side - and they're clever too. Has it always been this way?

A: If you come to think of it, it's Darwinian.

The best client/agency relationships, and the best advertising, emerge from dialogue and debate. But the dialogue and the debate take place between two groups of people with comically lopsided leverage. This is not a partnership, with risk and reward equally shared and shouldered: this is a master/servant relationship. The client is the owner of the product and the owner of the chequebook. He appointed the agency in the first place and can terminate it at will. To get his way, he has simply to issue an instruction. If challenged for a reason, he has only to say: "Because I say so." (Just like any parent - and many these days are mummy parents, too.)

But an agency that obeys instructions blindly is of no value whatsoever to the client employing it. The client appointed the agency in the hope of obtaining insights, ideas and creative executions of which his own company would have been incapable. If these insights, ideas and creative executions are self-evidently right, the chances are they're wrong: anyone could have come up with them. The most valuable ideas are likely to be those that challenge convention, at least a little. The agency, whose money is not at risk, will be a great deal more confident of their potential than the client, whose money is.

So debate and dialogue begin. At any point, the client can instruct the agency to go away and start again. At no point can the agency instruct the client to shut up and take the stuff. This is no contest between equals. The client has the chequebook; the agency knows that the ultimate punishment for stubbornness is dismissal. And that means loss of income, loss of face, loss of reputation, loss of bonus - and maybe even loss of job. How can an agency ever win?

This is where Darwin comes in. While the client is free to employ coercion, the agency is wholly dependent on persuasion. The most persuasive people are beautiful people, clever people, people that other people warm to and much enjoy spending time with. They deserve to be called charming because that's what they do. If agencies are to survive and prosper, they need to hire - and if necessary breed - those who are fittest for this task. Clients don't.

As a gamekeeper turned poacher, you've now surrendered the comfort of coercion for the precarious alternative of persuasion. I do hope you're very clever and extremely beautiful.

Q: I'm hoping my partner will read your answer to this question: is it alright for the CEO of an agency to go on a family holiday to a villa in the Costa Smeralda with his BlackBerry and laptop having sent an all-staff e-mail saying it's fine to contact him if anything urgent comes up? I know he's done this because our home e-mail is on the cc list and our nanny thinks it's just not on ...

A: Are you quite sure you want your partner to read this reply?

When your nanny takes her own holiday, she can go away with a clear conscience. They're your children and she knows you'll look after them. She may not even tell you where she's going. All you need to know is when she'll be back.

Though he may remark that he sometimes feels like one, your partner is not a nanny. He's the CEO of a company full of highly strung individuals in a viciously competitive market serving unpredictable clients in the middle of the worst recession since before he was born. He's already had to lay off 12 people and two key clients have expressed their deep dissatisfaction. Yes, of course: he could shrug his shoulders, switch off the BlackBerry, pick up a couple of Jeffrey Archers and head for the Costa Smeralda. Surely everyone's entitled to a proper holiday? Surely family should come first for a few weeks a year? No-one's indispensable!

I don't blame your nanny for thinking that. She may be right. But that doesn't take into account people like your partner. One of the reasons he's a good CEO is that he's got very, very sensitive antennae. He can pick up the first whispers of opportunity, discontent, conflict and trouble. Nobody else listens as shrewdly as he does nor pre-empts crises quite as nimbly. That's why he's the CEO and they're not.

So let him take his BlackBerry and his laptop - and don't do it grudgingly. If he spends two hours out of every 24 keeping in touch, he'll be a very happy daddy for the other 22. If he followed your nanny's advice, he wouldn't sleep for three weeks.

- "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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