MCBD on the hunt for the right kind of publicity

It was always going to be a difficult summer for Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD) from the moment its newest and most high-profile recruit Jonathan Durden entered Channel 4’s Big Brother house. It is not the kind of attention the agency has ever craved and, amid rumours that Durden is leaving (MW last week) before the end of the year – denied, as it happens, by Durden himself – MCBD is once again the talk of the town.

Founded in June 1999 by Jeremy Miles, Helen Calcraft, Paul Briginshaw and Malcolm Duffy as the first major breakaway from Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO in its 21-year history, MCBD is one of the “new wave” agencies alongside the likes of CHI & Partners, Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest and Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners (DLKW).

MCBD sold a 51% stake to Cossette Communications Group in 2005 as a prelude to an eventual takeover. It was a part of a six-year deal which saw the Canadian group pay an initial £7.8m cash for a majority stake.

New business push
The agency has been busy on the new business front and has been shortlisted for several big pitches including Yell, Nintendo and the Food Standards Agency, but it has struggled to convert places on shortlists into wins.

Chief executive Calcraft says: “In terms of size, are we as big as VCCP or CHI? Maybe not. But I can proudly say that our retention is one of the best in the industry.” However, she admits that the agency has suffered a few “near misses” in terms of new business, but points to wins in the past 12 months that include the Department of Health and Vision Express. The agency is on the pitch list for Premier Foods.

A rival agency executive says: “The problem with MCBD is that it suffers from an AMV hangover – a bunch of classic admen running an agency in a world where you need to be entrepreneurial. It can produce beautifully executed ads for Waitrose, but it is anything but inspiring.” 

Rivals also point to the award-winning Met Police Trident work and the press work for outdoor retailer Millets.

Dealing with distractions
Another agency head notes the “passive state” of MCBD because of the “recent unfortunate turn of events” and believes it has been a “huge distraction for Calcraft”. Simultaneously, chairman Miles has been away for personal reasons.

However, the agency’s profits are thought to be healthy and it is not without its admirers. The AAR’s director of advertising, Martin Jones, says it has done “amazingly well to be counted among the top 20 London agencies in eight years”, while AMV group chairman Cilla Snowball adds: “It is a good creative agency with some very talented and principled people.” 

DLKW chairman Greg Delaney agrees, saying: “MCBD is run by some very good people and it has the right combination of skills. It has possibly been unfortunate in not having an iconic campaign that defined it as an agency.” 

Despite being classed as one of the industry’s best press agencies, MCBD’s overall creative output is described by some as “uninspiring”. Sources say it is on the lookout for a “hot” creative talent. Another agency executive believes MCBD could earn a creative and commercial advantage by merging with Cossette’s newly acquired digital agency Dare, with Calcraft running the merged entity. However, such a prospect is denied by Calcraft.

For the moment, a couple of creatively led new business wins would help ease MCBD into the new year.

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