BBH proves that size isn’t so important

It’s not often you see an agency’s reputation transformed in a week. All the more so when that agency is already on a creative pedestal and the change is upwards, rather than into the mire.

Simple arithmetic reveals that Bartle Bogle Hegarty must have increased its billings by &£160m in the past week (&£7m from Electrolux, plus BA and the lion’s share of Omo/Persil). Add that to last year’s Nielsen figures and we get a very conservative &£350m to &£360m total. Given that BBH has had a string of other wins (the &£17m global Vaseline business, Dunlop, Burton’s Foods, some Google) offset by few losses, the inference is obvious. BBH will soon be giving Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO (billings last year, &£366m) a run for its money as the UK’s top agency.

Managing to ally an uncompromised creative reputation with maximum size, though no mean feat, is not unprecedented. Saatchi & Saatchi pulled it off in its heyday and AMV has risen to the challenge more recently. What’s uniquely interesting about BBH is that is has achieved this without the backing of a global network. Though nearly 75 per cent of BBH’s income now comes from international clients, its physical global presence is tiny: just five offices, in London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore and Tokyo.

Surely not?, you might object. Isn’t BBH part of the Publicis Groupe, enjoying all the plug-in benefits of a proper global network? It’s true that Leo Burnett, wholly owned by Publicis, has since 1997 held 49 per cent of BBH. This relationship has had important benefits, for instance in media buying and helping to run the global Diageo business. Equally, the pivotal Omo/Persil win succinctly demonstrates the point of retaining that vital majority stake, and with it managerial independence.

At the time of the Burnett sale, BBH’s partners took a deliberate and apparently perverse decision not to exploit the obvious benefit of being linked to a leading P&G global network. Instead, they would cultivate their fledgling relationship with P&G’s principal rival. The reward appears spectacular but is in truth the culmination of a lucid strategic vision, carefully and consistently executed: from Bertolli olive oil to Lynx, Impulse, Surf, Flora and most recently Vaseline. Indeed, careful consistency is one of the less hallowed hallmarks of BBH, echoed in the longevity of senior management; of clients such as Audi and Levi’s; and no less in the eventual BA triumph (BBH having been narrowly seen off ten years ago).

On a wider scale, it is tempting to see the BBH phenomenon as the rebuttal of an industry platitude. In administering a black eye to JWT and Lowe, BBH has proved that being in the middle, globally speaking, does not necessarily mean being squeezed. Brand stewardship of a global account is certainly a way forward for smaller agencies (as with Mother and Nitro). But the BBH model still has two demanding challenges to overcome. First, in Unilever it must prove it can handle a massively enhanced piece of business without the support of another network (for Diageo and BA, by contrast, it can rely on Burnett). And, further down the line, it will have to address the issue of full management succession, the acid test of any great agency.

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here