Advertising agencies wanting to expand internationally have faced a stark choice – forge alliances or get the cheque-book out. But BBH proves there is an alternative, says John Shannon. John Shannon i

Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s achievement in securing a second consecutive Queen’s Award for Export reflects the agency’s evolving commitment to the development of pan-regional and inter- national advertising.

It also highlights a number of changes and developments facing the international communications industry.

BBH, as is well known, built and has sustained its reputation for stylish, well-crafted creative work, on accounts such as Levi’s, One2One and Boddington’s. Unlike many of its peer group UK agencies, its three founders have remained closely involved in the business and so created a spirit of continuity, stability and unwavering confidence.

But as the needs of advertisers have changed, most notably in their shift away from focusing on home markets towards expansion into new ones, agencies have had to change. At its most basic level, local agencies like BBH have faced a choice. Either they could try to build a network through acquisition and/or affiliations, or develop their brand.

The real problem for smaller agencies wishing to build a network has been that most of the good agencies around the world were snap-ped up long ago. This approach would, in any case, be less attractive to an agency with a strong culture of its own.

BBH’s recent track record internationally suggests that its decision to export its clear brand positioning as an agency known for its creativity was the right one.

Indeed, its reputation-led solution to the problem of moving from local to multinational player makes an interesting contrast with the approach favoured by GGT, which has chosen instead to transform itself into an instant multinational by buying the BDDP group.

For the long-established major multinational agency groups the challenge has been different. The best already have well established sophisticated and comprehensive networks to service large multinational clients.

But the real value of these networks goes beyond geographical coverage. It is their deep understanding of local market conditions built over many years and their ability to co-ordinate and execute major multidiscipline campaigns that single them out.

Today, the main challenge in this area of expertise comes from management consultancies attempting to sell them- selves as brand “doctors”.

In meeting this challenge, the glo-bal agencies can learn a lesson from BBH, whose success has been achie-ved through devel- oping a strong agency identity – and sticking to it.

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