James Thompson
May 10, 2016

Farewell to fidelity: I’m playi­ng the field

I’m being unfaithful and, what’s more, I’m loving it.

James Thompson
James Thompson

Perhaps I should explain, in case you think you’re reading a different sort of column.

Throughout my career, I’ve avoided pitching business to different agencies. My core beliefs are that it isn’t only one party’s fault if things don’t work out, that a longstanding relationship can withstand bumps on the road, and that you’re likely to get a problem solved by an organisation with a long, collective memory of your brand. “Don’t change your agency, change how you manage them,” goes one mantra. “Don’t change your agency, change people in it,” runs another. Much of my experience, training and instinct steer me to the equivalent of marriage counsellor with an agency, not straight to a divorce court.

How do you know when things are heading to a split rather than a midlife-crisis-like tantrum followed by makeup sex? It is when all your conversations seem to be about money. Nothing indicates a breakdown in trust more than squabbling over timesheets and bonus rates, especially when more energy goes into that than strategic thinking. When that trust is gone, neither side can remember all the cute things that used to endear them to the other.

So I’m now playing the field. I’m at the stage where I love the freedom, find lots of attractive options and wonder why it took me so long in the first place. I am blown away by the amazing work and effort from very talented people. It will be heartbreaking turning some of the potential relationships down. But this new freshness injects excitement into my team.

Part of me wishes we could have made the old relationship work out. But there is something to be said for accepting that things are past their best and both sides can benefit from new pastures.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or tweet him @JamesThompson1


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