BBDO Buys Cincinnati-Based Shop on P&G Roster

Acquisition Comes as It Attempts to Broaden Business With Marketer

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- In an attempt to broaden its relationship with Procter & Gamble, BBDO has made its first acquisition in decades with the purchase of 15-year-old Barefoot Advertising, a Cincinnati-based shop that handles P&G brands such as Swiffer.
Barefoot's founding partner and chief creative officer, Doug Worple
Barefoot's founding partner and chief creative officer, Doug Worple

BBDO entered the consumer-product giant's roster after P&G purchased Gillette, and it became a major priority of CEO Andrew Robertson's to grow BBDO's -- and parent Omnicom Group's -- business with the marketer. BBDO lost its Oral B business to Publicis, and it hasn't been easy cracking long-term agency relationships.

In Barefoot, BBDO gets a shop that posted $9 million in revenue, up 20% over the year before. Since opening its doors in 1993, Barefoot has grown to about 70 employees and now boasts as its largest client P&G, whose roster it first joined via work for Swiffer. It has steadily grown that portfolio in the past several years, the bulk of it spread across the home-care business, while at the same time developing its digital chops and winning interactive work for brands such as Miller Brewing and Del Monte.

Down the road, Barefoot could lead to BBDO gaining a stronger footing on the roster, particularly as it brings the agency and parent Omnicom into an area of the P&G business where it has little or no presence: home care, a space now dominated by Publicis shops such as Kaplan Thaler and Saatchi, and WPP Group's Grey. Barefoot's work there is primarily in digital and print promotion.

Not because of P&G
Plus, Barefoot's integration into the agency could help BBDO and Omnicom if P&G expands the single-point-of-entry model it's testing with brands such as Braun and Oral-B.

Notwithstanding the widely held tenet that ad-agency deals are done to buy client relationships and revenue, Mr. Robertson insisted that the attraction to Barefoot wasn't solely because of their mutual client. "We haven't bought them because of P&G. ... Clients' business is not for sale; it has to be earned," he said. But he noted that buying an agency that has successfully expanded its relationship with the nearly $5 billion marketer is certainly "a plus."

Finalized last week, the purchase represents the first notable investment BBDO has made in years; the last on record was when it struck a deal in 1987 to buy Chicago shop Cohen & Greenbaum, now part of Energy BBDO.

Under the terms of the agreement, Barefoot will become part of BBDO North America and also will fold into Proximity Worldwide, BBDO's direct- and digital-marketing network, in the hope of giving that offering -- which has largely been a success story in Europe and Asia -- a bolstered U.S. footprint.

While it's used acquisitions to grow its global presence, BBDO is notoriously anti-acquisitive in the U.S., focusing here on organic growth. This deal, though, was one Mr. Robertson personally pursued for years, after a mutual friend introduced him to Doug Worple, Barefoot's founding partner and chief creative officer, at an industry conference.

Mr. Worple, a former P&G executive, initially rebuffed Mr. Robertson's advances, saying he was "flattered, but no." In recent months, though, Mr. Worple came around, after determining that the go-it-alone route wasn't the one that could most help his agency grow. "Being tapped into a network and having global scale is going to be critical in the next several years," Mr. Worple said. "We needed and wanted to be part of an organization where we could go and leverage what we've done" and "put a jetpack under our growth."

Best fit
Mr. Worple engaged AdMedia Partners, New York, to help Barefoot explore the range of possible suitors, including other holding companies, venture capital and other overseas players. In the end, the shop came back around to BBDO, deeming it the best fit culturally.

Mr. Worple will continue to lead Barefoot, and each of its seven partners will stay with the company and continue to hold shares in the agency.

Still, going from the autonomy of being an independent to being absorbed by one of the biggest networks in the business will be a bit of a change, Mr. Worple said. "I've been used to making decisions with no quarterly or annual deadlines," said Mr. Worple, who will now join the Proximity Worldwide board.

"There can be and tends to be a lot of ego in the business, and we didn't want to go somewhere where there would be a lot of prima donnas," Mr. Worple said.
Most Popular