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On the Campaign couch

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David Bell, the chief executive of Cheethambell JWT, writes: We recently lost a pitch. While the client loved our creative work, said our social media ideas were the best and adored our account director so much that they wanted to take her home, the winning agency got it on its ‘culture’: the way it pitched from settees, the fact it had a llama in reception. Should I now worry more about what turns on a client than its consumers?

Dear David, thank you very much for this question. Some clients still like to pretend that, when taking on a new agency, their selection procedure is a purely rational one. A few even provide the members of their selection panel with pre-printed scorecards, with individual boxes allocated to those agency attributes thought to be most important: Analytical Ability; Relevant Experience; Creativity; Evidence Of Effectiveness; and so on.

Each box is then marked, by each member of the panel, from one to ten. At the end of the process, no general discussion is deemed necessary. All that is required is for the numbers to be added up, with the agency achieving the highest aggregate score automatically being awarded the business.

In the long history of mankind, no good decision – about anything – has ever been arrived at by the application of this method. Nor will it ever be.

Whether choosing a car, a spouse, a house or an advertising agency, non-functional, instinctive, intuitive, emotional and utterly immeasurable considerations will always play some part: and quite often, the crucial part. In honour of your own recent disappointment, let’s call it the llama effect.

What makes your experience extremely unusual is not that the llama effect played an important part in the client’s decision; it plays an important part in almost every decision. But the llama effect is never normally openly acknowledged. Post-rationalisation takes over – and provides a shared cloak of respectability. And so the myth of the purely rational is allowed to survive and prosper. What’s unprecedented in this case is that the client has come out and declared that the decisive factor in his decision was not your competitor’s creative work and not their social media ideas, but their llama.

It’s almost admirable.

So please don’t despair. In the past, without your knowing it, you’ve almost certainly won business on the strength of your style as well as your substance. It’s just that nobody told you so. And please don’t get a llama.

Campaign’s Faces To Watch showcased young talent. But is advertising too much about celebrating youth? Should there be an ‘oldies’ Faces To Watch?

As Margaret Thatcher didn’t say: "A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure." Despite the fact that there’s no evidence that she ever said such a thing (and would have been roasted alive if she had), the belief persists. When we stumble on a phrase that seems to encapsulate what we already believe to be true, we’re not scrupulous about checking its authenticity.

We certainly believe it about advertising. "Persons who, beyond the age of 26, still find themselves without the word ‘director’ in their job title can count themselves failures." Luckily, since the main boards of agencies these days represent up to 50 per cent of the agency payroll, almost everyone can be comfortably accommodated.

This being the case, I hope you’ll see your suggestion as impractical. What agency is going to propose a member of their staff for inclusion in a Campaign portrait gallery headlined Oldies To Watch? And who’s going to be thrilled to be so featured?

It might as well be headlined Ten Who Never Made It.

Media agencies seem to be hiring creative directors: do you consider this a good move or should they stick to what they are good at?

The medium and the message are so indissolubly entwined (or should be) that it remains a shame that for irresistible commercial reasons, media and creative agencies had to disentwine themselves. So I’m all in favour of creative agencies employing media planners and media agencies employing creative directors. The resulting confusion can only be beneficial. Little of real merit emerges from tidiness.

"Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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