Opinion: On The Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: We handle the advertising for one of the major political parties and I've been put on the business. With the election next year and things starting to step up a bit, do you have any words of wisdom for dealing with such an account?

A: I very much hope that you've learned very little in your advertising career to date because the more you've learned, the more you'll have to forget. No doubt many wise heads have told you that a party political account is just like any other account and should be handled as such. They're wrong. A party political account has nothing whatever in common with any other account you've ever been near.

Forget about brand-building. Forget about encouraging repeat purchase. Forget about the Advertising Standards Authority. When you're within ten months of a General Election (and you are), only one thing matters: what people do on just one day. Winner takes all, no silver medals, increased market share irrelevant. You either triumph or you fail. (It's even possible to get more votes than anyone else and still fail - but that's another story.)

Forget all you've been taught about the dangers of negative advertising. You may need to scare people witless. (Are you thinking what we're thinking?) If you don't like one lager, you choose another one tomorrow. If you don't like an incoming government, you're stuck with it for years. Scary stuff. It's not only Conservatives who are conservative.

You're used to having a client. On this piece of business, you'll have dozens. And dozens of different dozens. They'll be in and out of favour and in and out of the war room on a daily basis. And they'll all be experts in advertising. The person with the latest polling data will be listened to with something close to religious awe. Truthsayers become soothsayers. Everybody wants a killer poster ("Labour isn't working") but no two agree on what it should be.

Key decisions will be made at 4am when the key decision-makers are crazed with fatigue. They will expect you to be there. You will be asked whether the leader's shirt collar should be inside or outside his classless pullover for the election broadcast and whether or not education should or shouldn't take precedence over health. These are questions of equivalent significance and your opinion will be ignored on both. One advisor who was in the US for three weeks of the Obama campaign believes this to be Britain's first internet election and you will be expected to put this insight into practice. Yes you can.

When your party drops three points in a poll, your latest ad will be blamed. Three high-profile political advisors, one in Los Angeles, will take part in a conference call. A fourth will have a private conversation with the party leader who's already lost faith in the appointed head of communications and strategy and has told everybody so - everybody, that is, except the appointed head of communications and strategy. The election manifesto is on its 17th draft and everybody's really, really happy with it. They just think it might need the attention of a wordsmith ...

Meanwhile, your real clients, the ones who actually pay you money, are holding their breath. They've noticed you haven't been around much recently. If you win, they'll excuse you and expect to be invited to a very small party at No.10. But if you lose, you'll be up for review within the week. Real clients don't have strong political affiliations, although they do enjoy proximity to power. They don't enjoy proximity to losers.

Hope that's helped.

Q: I work in new business and PR at a top London agency. My employer has just appointed someone over my head who pretty much does my job but for more money, and I've been left twiddling my thumbs. What should I do?

A: We're deep in the worst recession since The Great Plague. Marketing budgets are down, agencies are laying off staff and those remaining are invited to work a week a month for nothing. Yet your agency - a top London agency - has just taken on someone, for more money, to do your job: and has kept you on as well.

I can only assume that your uncle is the chief executive of Anglo-Galvanized.

Either that, or your management is made up of morons. And anyone whose job security is dependent on their management being morons should feel deeply insecure. So what you should do is panic. Calmly, of course. Mustn't let it show. But I reckon you've got about ten minutes to find something else.

"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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