Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I'm currently studying advertising at university and am hoping to enjoy a long career working at some of the best creative agencies in the world.

I'm even more excited to work in the industry having just finished watching the latest Mad Men series. The show is an accurate portrayal of the industry, right?

A: Wrong. Mad Men is full of pleasures, finely drawn characters and period settings. But it has little to do with agency life then or now. However, that doesn't mean you should despair. The gap between Mad Men and the agency business may be great but the gap between the agency business and almost any other legal way of earning a living is positively vast. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Q: I'm a marketing director who actually gets on well with my counterpart in procurement and we have both had our fill of our agencies trying to negotiate "payment by results", "incentive payments" or "performance bonuses" on top of their fees. What these agencies don't appreciate is that our marketing and procurement team's contribution to the development of strategy, channel plans and creative content is as important as theirs - I see us as co-authors of the "brand story". To reflect this reality, I'm thinking of proposing a joint client/agency performance incentive to our board, and I wonder if you've ever come across this before and, if so, whether it worked out in practice?

A: I'm sure you're right: I very much doubt that your agencies fully appreciate the important contribution your procurement team makes to their creative content. To be fair, it is quite unusual. If you pursue your imaginative plan, and on the basis that your procurement team's creative contribution is just as important as that of your agency, it would presumably mean that 50 per cent of your creative agency's incentive bonus, were it to be earned, would be diverted to your procurement department? I realise that top-slicing seems to be gaining currency - but here we're talking not so much slices as bloody great chunks. It may not find favour. Of course, any apparent inequity would be quickly resolved if only your agency could demonstrate the important contribution that in turn it makes to the cost-efficient procurement of your IT equipment and air travel. You might put this thought to them and see if it helps.

I'd be inclined not to put your grand proposal to your board until you've got a few little wrinkles like this ironed out.

Q: One of the big holding companies has offered to set up an "agency of agencies" to service our brand, while the other group in contention has proposed a "lead" agency solution. My question is this: which of the two should I accept, all other things being equal? Or should I consider setting up our own in-house agency?

A: Most service structures can be made to work - at least for a time. The way to think sensibly about them is not top-down but bottom-up. What your brand needs is not a holding company or an agency of agencies or one agency "leading" other agencies or your own in-house agency. What your brand needs is the close personal attention of a number of clever, inventive and complementary digital-age people who between them have enough business sense, strategic ability and creative firepower to make your marketing money go twice as far. They should be led, cajoled, inspired, admonished and flattered by an individual who in another life would make a brilliant feature-film producer. In other words, what your brand needs is the only kind of taskforce that can get great things done on a regular basis. It's not a department, it's not an agency - it's that scandalously under-rated operational unit called an Account Group.

There's a regrettable tendency to apply the term Account Group to account persons only; with perhaps the occasional planner thrown in to add a little intellectual Tabasco. That is not an Account Group; that's a uni-disciplinary bunch of suits. A proper Account Group is by definition multi-disciplinary; it should contain every individual who is expected to make a contribution; and every member, though totally committed to each client, should work on at least one other piece of client business. Total commitment does not, and should not, mean enslavement. Enslaved agency people rapidly become proxy clients and lose their value.

An in-house agency will never work for long because the best advertising people are restless, promiscuous and endlessly adventurous. Once they feel trapped, they'll form escape teams and dig their way out.

- "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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