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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

A confederacy of dunces ... at our expense

Yesterday some experts from a large publicly-owned organisation a few of whose workers spend a lot of time in the pub down the road, sometimes discussing their next withdrawal of labour, visited our basement to tell us how to improve our major client's direct mail.

They arrived late, with more people than they had advised us of and without the equipment we had told them they needed. However, they did have a PC with an Apple sticker on it which makes one wonder whether they ought to look into possible openings at The Comedy Store. This thought grew in prominence as the day wore on.

They helpfully pointed out the shortcomings of our direct mail - the copy is too long, the layout doesn't quite work and so on. To put their wisdom in context, our work has beaten all challengers (at least eight other agencies) twice a year for five years straight. It has been a chief reason why our client has enjoyed successive record years in an incredibly competitive market, whilst one of their two main competitors has gone broke and the other is having trouble meeting their financial obligations.

To be fair, our helpful visitors didn't know this as they only asked once about results. Nor, for that matter, when they showed a pleasing array of expensive creative material we might learn from did the words "response" or "results" cross their lips when we asked about such sordid details. There was much high-flown stuff about branding, with reference to Gordon's Gin - the perfect example when selling home improvements through a sales force who are gagging for leads every day.

One of my colleagues seemed to get rather excited at this point, perhaps caused by the sheer frustration of having to introduce the novel concept of return on investment to our visitors. As a matter of fact they seemed breezily unaware that this looms so very largely on the agendas of most normal businesses - especially those who, like our client, send out tens of millions of pieces each year.

One priceless gem during this epic encounter with witlessness came when one of my partners enquired about a particularly expensive direct mail piece: "Where did they get money from for that?" "Out of the TV budget". Uh?

Another came when one of our visitors who clearly suffered from creative pretensions said (I'm not kidding) "I'm seeing a green house with doors opening to show energy efficient products inside." My colleagues thought they'd strayed into a clip from a Ricky Gervais sketch - until the guy used that magic "I'm seeing" phrase again.

But the most hilarious moment came when the same visionary said (seriously) "Adwords don't work".

I cannot help but call one of Dr. Johnson's very best insults into service: "Such an excess of stupidity is not in nature."

And I cannot help but conclude that private ownership with a dash of selective unemployment might be quite good for any organisation that keeps such people off the crowded streets where their talents would so clearly flourish.

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