Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Since new product development and brand identity agencies often invent brands, does this mean they're better placed than other sorts of agencies to manage them over time, including doing the brand's advertising and marketing communications?

A: The key phrase is "over time". The brutal truth is that the ultimate responsibility for managing a brand's communications over time cannot be outsourced or subcontracted: it lies firmly with the brand's owner. And all too often, the brand's owner flunks it.

Financial consultants, stockbrokers, auctioneers and estate agents all love churn. Whether things are bought or sold, they profit. And the more often things are bought and sold, the more profit they make. Activity is everything. Churn is good.

A sort of churn effect exists in the marcoms business - and it's all clients' fault. The guiltiest sector is financial services - particularly the high-street banks - who seem to have recklessly shifted their "brand positioning" with every change of marketing director and ad agency. And they've been doing it, too, at exactly the time when customer trust in these institutions was being tested as never before and when stability and consistency would have been most valued. It's clear - but not, I'm afraid, in the least surprising - that the banks' big bosses have been as aloof from, and as ignorant about, what their marketing people were up to as they were of their in-house gamblers.

If a bank appoints a new marketing director, with previous experience in consumer goods and fashion retail, it shouldn't be surprised if he wants to change the advertising. There's very little else he (or indeed she) can change. Marketing directors have little or no control over mortgage and loan rates, branch sites and interior design, staff training and behaviour. So let's change the advertising. Churn is good. If the existing agency is fiercely principled, it will argue for consistency. It will be accused of defensiveness and of being unable to come up with anything new. Quite soon it will have to choose between capitulation and keeping the business - or losing it. Either way, change will occur. What new agency, on that shortlist of eight, is going to base its pitch on the preservation of a brand platform that the previous agency has just been fired for clinging to? Churn is good. It's in nobody's interest to play the continuity card. Except, of course, entirely possibly, the bank's.

But to the bank's bosses, the marketing department is just another department, rather like stationery or IT. The chief executive still hasn't bothered to understand brands, let alone recognise that he's the brand manager. Indeed, the marketing director is now careful not to use the word when invited to join the end of a board meeting for the quarterly review. "A bank is not a tin of baked beans, Mr Frobisher!"

There's no reason to believe that new product and brand identity agencies would be any more successful than mainstream agencies at persuading paying clients not to do things. Doing things is what gives them professional satisfaction and pays the bills. Churn is good.

Q: James Sutton writes: I am about to post my first message on our brand new agency blog. Conventional wisdom says that I should write about my drinking habits, steal my planner's comments from her Twitter feed, post up photos from the Christmas agency party, and add a sprinkling of "witticisms" from the creative director. Do you think my entry would be better spent saying something substantial about the agency and what it thinks and feels, rather than the agency and its staff?

A: Thanks, James. But please remember that conventional wisdom isn't always wise. That's the implicit significance of the word conventional. It always needs to be challenged.

There's another piece of conventional wisdom that says that if companies want to be thought cutting-edge and cool, they've got to blog; they've got to be in there with the social networks and be Twittering away. This is a bizarre belief that only new media attract. Nobody says that, if a company wants to be thought cutting-edge and cool, it's got to use direct mail. Only in the early life of a new medium is the choice of that medium an end in itself. After that, as with all established media, it's seen to be just another means to a predetermined end.

If neither you nor your agency is sure whether your blog should contain substantial information about the company or unfortunate photos from your last Christmas party, it's all too obvious that you've absolute no idea why you're doing it. Once you do know why, you'll know the answer to your own question.

- "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.