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Archive for January, 2009

One of the things that alarms me most about marketing’s reaction to the current economic crisis (or recession, depending on where you’re living) is that it has become an all-consuming (and almost entirely misunderstood) context for all discussions  had, and all decisions made. “What are we going to do in the current economic climate?” has become one of those questions which has been set by marketers to their advertising agencies in the same sort of “let’s not REALLY engage  with this ” sort of way, that I am old enough to remember from the dot.com revolution (when the response seemed to be “Get a website where people can look at the ads.”).

And so it is that the question is asked, a disinterested presentation is given back, everyone pronounces that due diligence has been served – and things rumble on much as before: the issue not really dealt with, the brand in question not really helping its consumers (and thus buying their longer-term loyalty).

The best retailer recession strategy that I have seen comes from Sainsbury’s (and their partner, the enduringly good AMV.BBDO): TV idents that talk about using up left-over ingredients. It’s got a lightness of touch that doesn’t pull the brand down into a value, there is no mention made of “economic downturn”, “these difficult times”, or anything similar that might force their consumers into seeing themselves as “sufferers”. Instead it focuses on the virtue of using leftover food creatively: it’s recession-relevant in spades, but it also positions the brand as helpful, creative and – most importantly – on its customers’ side (after all: it’s not in Sainsbury’s DIRECT interest to make people use their leftovers properly – it would be “better” business sense to encourage them to chuck them out and start again – but this is about providing inspiration and service – not making a quick buck). If only everyone else could be so smart, so relevant, and frankly, so long-term in their thinking.

There is also, of course, another side to the situation that we in advertising are in as a result of the recession: redundancies. In recession, many clients cut their budgets – some stop advertising completely – and that means that people who supply that advertising lose their jobs.

Of course, I am not so myopic as to suggest that this is a recession that’s only effecting people in my industry – but it is a truth that we are seen (perhaps rightly) as less essential to the present (never mind the future – the future’s a luxury) success of a brand or a business, than many other employees and partners – and so the level of redundancies are high.

So, it was with more than a little surprise that I heard that American Diva Friend was trying to resist being given another account to work on (thereby making her, more or less, impossible to lose).

To keep your job in an advertising agency, you have to have a client (or clients) who will pay for 100% of your time (your time being charged out in percentages, at different rates, according to level of seniority). So, if (as in my case, for example) you have one client paying for 50% of your time, and another client paying the remaining 50%, you’re (by and large) OK.

However, American Diva Planning Friend is 70% paid for – and therein lies the problem. The agency thinks that the remaining 30% should be billed against a paying client (so she is “cost neutral”, rather than an overhead) – whereas she believes that the remaining 30% should afford her the extra time she needs to do added value pieces that delight her Client and raise her own professional profile.

However much I like American Diva Planning Friend (and I like her enormously), the fact is, this sort of fantasy is just that – a fantasy. Faced with a choice between having to pay (partially) for a member of staff themselves (and afford that person the chance to do extra work that really interests them and keeps them motivated; versus not having to pay for that person because they are fully recovered against a Client’s fee, it’s a “no-brainer” – for any advertising agency, not just our current employer. Especially in the “current economic climate”.

We are lucky: the consequences for many people of this recession is that they lose their jobs completely. We must be realistic that it is a perivilege to be negotiating the terms of a job – and not get fanciful about the fact that that is what it is: a job.

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I thought Eldest Son had been kidnapped today.

This is (as with any parent) the nightmare to end all nightmares, and it strikes me most forcibly when Wife is (as she was today) engaged elsewhere. Shepherding three children, particularly around the catnip-filled lagoons of Chiswick’s Waterstone’s, is pretty heavy-going – and so I am always nervous that I’m going to be looking the wrong way when one of my children is snatched/falls under a lorry/signs up for an X Factor audition.

Anyway, on this occasion, I had been talking to Eldest Son about a book that he wanted bought for him, which I judged to be (at eighteen pounds) a little too expensive to suffer the fate of most of his books (pored over for a couple of hours, then discarded or simply pulled apart), so I tried to explain to him that I thought it was best that he just LOOK at the book, and we find him something cheaper to buy (as we had for his brother and sister). His eyes misted with tears and I could see this was going to be heavy going, but I was determined not to give on on this one, so I told him to look through it while I went to go and try and find a book for me (Jonathan Bate’s new book on Shakespeare, since you ask, which I deemed, to ALSO be too expensive  – not a good day for booksellers…). My final words to him were “Darling, we just don’t have enough money to buy it.”

When I went back into the Children’s section, he wasn’t there. I circled the area and called his name – still nothing. A member of Waterstone’s staff asked me if I was looking for a little boy with blonde hair, in a fawn coat: “He’s by the till.”

Needless to say, my relief was enormous – until I saw him standing at the till, with the book, an earnest and pained look upon his face. As I drew near, I could see the sympathetic look on the cashier’s face, because Eldest Son was telling her:

“I really like this book, but I can’t have it because we are so poor. My daddy doesn’t have any money, you see.”

He was trying to negotiate her down to (essentially) donating it – but I managed to get there in just the nick of time. Of course, I bought it for him (figuring that if he wanted it that much, he ought to have it) – but not before I had heard him entertain the rest of the queue to a story of his bread-line status, and our family’s battle for survival. I wasn’t really concentrating on the story, but as I turned to hold his hand and walk him to the door, I was THRILLED to see that the person standing next to us in the queue was our neighbour of three doors’ away…

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Work/Life Balance

I was talking to Old Friend at Work about someone who she works with. She was saying how much she likes this person, while simultaneously finding their professional ability somewhat lacking, not to say (eventually) irritating: and it was with that she coined the phrase “My would-be friend and professional Nemesis”. Brava.

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It’s a feature of some very good, and some very bad advertising to tell the story backwards. I won’t name the bad ones (they are too numerous – and even I am not that vindictive), but the good ones include “Noitulove” and “Getting Dressed”, for Guinness and Lynx/Axe respectively. On the same principle as “If you’ve got nothing to say, sing it” (amply demonstrated by Halifax’s “Singing Cunts” campaign – oh well, there goes the “vindictive” element), this is a supposed way of creating intrigue.

I wonder how intrigued the casual observer would have been then, to have happened upon the following scene and tried to “work backwards” to the natural starting point: Good Friend in PR and me, in a bar in Singapore, singing (LOUDLY) to “Hey Jude” that is being performed by a local band, surrounded by Asian businessmen in their 50s who were accompanied by prostitutes, at a table next to a German man who appears to have been drinking orange juice (but has somehow got so drunk that he has picked up a bar stool and is waving it over his head, as he pleads for the band to perform “The Final Countdown” by 80s dignityphobes “Europe”) and is dancing like a maniac.

He and I had an epic gad – and a night that began very sedately with Good Friend in PR, and Woman Who Managed to Make Sense of Digital to Me in a very nice hotel – and one that I wish I could experience more often (ideally because we lived on the same street, but that is not to be): but it is not a night I shall forget.

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It was announced yesterday that the Creative Director of one of our agencies is leaving: pushed, rather than jumped, it seems.

It’s about time: I worked with him a couple of times and have seldom been so struck by the division between reputation and reality. Here are a couple of reasons to celebrate the bearded twat’s departure.

  1. He spoke of himself in the third person.
  2. He earned £500, 000 p/a – yet did less than ten hours work a week.
  3. Instead of coming up with an idea, he used to flick through You Tube, looking for funny videos, or iD looking for nice art direction: he would then present these bits of set-dressing as “the idea”.
  4. He presided over the loss of a dazzling number of accounts – never once losing his baffling sense of entitlement and genius.
  5. In addition to his exorbitant salary, he requested that if we were to win a particular pitch (an existing client, as no new business can be persuaded to walk through the doors), an extra £100,000 be placed in his bank account on that same day.
  6. He did this against a background of people in his department being made redundant.
  7. He made this request from Barbados, where he was holidaying as the rest of the agency worked on the pitch in question.
  8. He is dismissive of everyone’s ideas, other than his own.
  9. He’s a two-faced coward.
  10. He thinks  he belongs to an elevated company that includes Mozart, Keats, Bernbach and Bullmore – in fact he belongs to that sad group of men in their forties who think they can turn back the clock by forking out £89 on an ironic T-shirt, with “Bum Monkey Empire” written on it in Japanese.

His departure has been met with unqualified glee, unsurprisingly – and there is no-one more delighted than Old Friend At Work to see the back of him: she has had to put up with self-aggrandising bullshit more than most over the year’s, and so it’s hardly surprising to see her frolicking about.

The agency now resembles nothing so much as Narnia, hot on the heels of the return of Aslan.

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