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On the Campaign couch

The new agency chief executive has put a stop to the Friday afternoon drinks trolley run. Is this a wise decision reflecting solemn times or a worrying sign that my new boss is a charmless killjoy?

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Neither. You should see this move as extremely encouraging.

Most new bosses send out inane e-mails promising to raise bars, push envelopes, break moulds and redefine categories. Nobody takes the slightest notice because there’s nothing of substance to take notice of.  Instead, your new chief executive has learnt a valuable lesson from the unfashionable Tony Blair.

Since 1917, clause four of the British Labour Party constitution had committed itself to "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Widely thought to mean the nationalisation of just about everything, held as sacrosanct by the old left and slightly unnerving for much of the electorate, clause four was even printed on the back of Labour membership cards.

Blair was the new chief executive. He had a huge majority. He wanted his party to know that things were going to be different from now on. He could have sent out (and probably did) a series of inane e-mails promising to raise bars. But he also, in 1995, ditched clause four. And, from that moment on, nobody – within the party, within the opposition, within the media, within the more alert sections of the electorate – was any longer in any doubt: things were going to be different from now on.

Your new chief executive understands the power of doing things. He didn’t just risk unpopularity; he courted it. He set out to encourage the response: "Hey, this guy means business!"

You may confidently look forward to many other decisions that will greatly concentrate people’s minds, raise their self-imposed standards, speed up delivery, improve morale and please clients. And when, against the odds, you win a fine new piece of business, do not be surprised if, for that week only, the Friday afternoon drinks trolley is reinstated.

You’ll all think he’s wonderful. Of course, it’s entirely possible that your new chief executive is just a charmless killjoy. Do let me know how you get on.

Dear Jeremy, The integrated agency I’ve recently joined seems only interested in making campaigns that will go viral and become talked about. It’s not interested in creating big ideas led by in-depth strategies, which is how I’m used to working. What should I do?

Ideas that are judged solely on their ability to go viral and become talked about can’t qualify for the term "campaign". Lots and lots of disconnected tactics don’t add up to a strategy. If anything, lots and lots of disconnected tactics, at some cost, ensure the disintegration of brand consistency: a curious contribution from an agency that calls itself integrated.

You have a choice: instruct your new agency in the timeless basics of brand communication; or get the hell out. I know which I’d do.

Please help. I’m trying to get my head around the constant use of the phrase "big data" in reports. Just how does this new trend differ from the boom in data warehousing in the mid-90s, card-based customer loyalty schemes that came a bit later or even Reader’s Digest using its mailing list to target people decades ago?

I need help, too. I’ve come to the conclusion that the term Big Data is uncannily similar to the term Big Society. Its real value lies in the fact that its meaning is so elusive that it can be used in any number of different contexts, many of them contradictory.

The pace of change over the past 20 years has been so hectic that even quite young people are now scared of saying: "Excuse me, but what does that actually mean?" The answer, I think, with acknowledgements to Lewis Carroll, is: "Whatever you’d like it to mean."

The pleasing irony of both Big Society and Big Data is that, if they signify anything at all, they signify the importance and value of a great many small things. A million people doing a million good things and a million people revealing their individual interests on social media can amount to a lot. But the basis of both is not big but tiny.

"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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