Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm a planner and I've just joined a new agency. I was hoping to promote the importance of planners in the ad agency mix but I can already see that's going to be a tough call. How should I go about it?

A: I'm sorry to have to say this, but you don't seem to be very clever. Successful planners come in all shapes and sizes other than stupid.

You were "hoping to promote the importance of planners in the ad agency mix". Good planners know how to frame strategies that are in their consumers' interests. Your strategy hopes to make other people think you're important. That's abysmal planning.

Try instead: "Hoping to demonstrate the value of planning to clients; and through clients, to the agency."

Thirty-one years ago, I was invited to speak to the inaugural meeting of the Account Planning Group. It was a bit like being asked to speak to one's old school on Speech Day. I was lofty and patronising and entirely unsurprisingly, I haven't been asked back. But I did say: "Never forget that advertising existed without you for over a hundred years and could well exist without you again. If you don't continually demonstrate your usefulness, your ability to help other people be better at what they do, then quite quickly you'll find yourself unused, unconsulted, unrespected and unhired."

If you can demonstrate your ability to help everyone else in your agency to be even better at what they do, then after a little while they might even say: "You know what? Planning can actually help! Not always, of course, but every now and then ..."

Unless and until you can achieve that, you'll find yourself unused, unconsulted, unrespected and - surprisingly swiftly - unhired.

Q: My client is thinking of holding a competition to get the unwashed masses to come up with an ad campaign. They say it would just be a one-off and that they have no intention of firing us, but I'm not convinced. How can I get them to drop this idea?

A: The harder you persuade them to drop the idea, the more certain you are to get fired. To your client, your opposition will be clear evidence that you're narrow-minded, insecure, resistant to change, stuck in the past, uncreative, self-obsessed and totally out of touch with this edgy new world of communications. It was probably because they suspected some of all this that they came up with the idea of doing a bit of crowd-sourcing in the first place. Your response will confirm them in their worst fears.

Even if you weren't committing professional suicide, you'd be mad to oppose this competition. It's bound to be fascinating, you'll learn a lot, and your client will need you more than ever. It will take formidable advertising experience and great editing skills to review all the stuff that comes in, relate it (even if retrospectively) to some sort of coherent strategy and turn it into proper work. See it as a mega brainstorm, with your job to make something shapely from the chaotic raw materials.

If you don't feel up to all that, you should probably pack it all in and start importing llamas instead. Your use of the phrase "the unwashed masses" suggests that you'd find some leisurely, shire-based activity rather more to your liking.

Q: Why do clients insist on endless rounds of research at their own expense and at the expense and time of agencies? Shouldn't they just trust their gut feeling?

A: To coin an old saying, one man's gut feeling is another man's nausea. There are, in any client organisation, multiple clients and, therefore, multiple guts. In even a middle-sized marketing company, there may be as many as 12 significant guts - and all with strong feelings. Unless guts are formally accorded voting weight based on the seniority of the gut's owner, there will be severe gut-clashes whenever creative work is under consideration.

Furthermore, even clients who trust their own gut feelings don't necessarily trust their agency's gut feelings: they remember the last time they did and it wasn't a happy experience.

And when the chief executive says to the marketing director, what makes you think that £30 million spent on a pair of identical bilingual terrapins will save this brand from being delisted, the marketing director quite likes to have something to say other than it's the agency's gut feeling as a matter of fact, Hector.

So I hope you're beginning to see why most clients feel a little bit happier when they've got a few numbers to support their gut with.

- "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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