After a decade of owning a 49% stake in Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Publicis Groupe has taken 100% ownership of the London-based micro-network. Ad Age 's Europe Editor Emma Hall talked with Nigel Bogle, one of BBH's three founding partners, about the deal.
Mr. Bogle, John Hegarty and John Bartle, who retired in 1999, set up the London office of TBWA in the 1970s, then left together to open one of London's most successful and enduring agencies in 1982. Mr. Bogle, who will remain involved in the business, is relinquishing his group chairman role to Simon Sherwood, previously group CEO.
Mr. Bogle: I've said to Maurice [Levy] for years, 'The lighter your hand on our shoulder, the better we'll be.' We spent a long time with him to ensure that we could preserve and enhance what BBH is . We call it 'autonomy within' and we have signed a protocol, a binding agreement that protects us and allows up to manage and operate BBH the way we want to. We've had 30 years of virtually uninterrupted growth -- we know how to run our business.
Ad Age : Can you tell us the main elements of the protocol?
Mr. Bogle: Publicis Groupe can never merge us with another agency. They can't make us take business we don't want to. We're not obliged to pitch for anything. They can't move us into one of their buildings. The BBH holding company board [Publicis Groupe Chairman-CEO Maurice Levy, Chief Operating Officer Jean-Yves Naouri and Chief Financial Officer Jean-Michel Etienne; ZenithOptimedia Global CEO Steve King, BBH founding partners Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty, and BBH Group Chairman Simon Sherwood] will meet three or four times a year to delegate the running of the business to BBH.
Mr. Bogle: Martin Sorrell bought Grey [in 2004], which is a big P&G agency, when WPP Group already owned two Unilever agencies, JWT and Ogilvy & Mather. The precedent has been set for some time. We've discussed this with our Unilever clients and colleagues.
Ad Age : What's your relationship like with Alexandre Gama [founder of Sao Paulo-based Neogama/BBH], who is now John Hegarty's successor as worldwide chief creative officer of BBH?
Mr. Bogle: He's a great creative leader, a great planner, he's fantastic with clients. And he looks like John Bartle -- that 's why we did it.
Ad Age : What is the advantage of this deal for BBH?
Mr. Bogle: BBH is a strong brand but it's underleveraged. I ask myself why we're still so small -- we're 30 years old and still only 1,000 people. There's a lot of opportunity to grow the business, and with only 49% ownership, Publicis had no incentive to invest. We need to be in Africa, and in the Middle East when things settle down. We can do that more rapidly now that we don't have to do it with our own money. And we need to invest in new skill sets. We were agency of the year at the Webby Awards, and we've established our digital credentials over the last few years, but we have to resell ourselves constantly to our client base as an agency equipped for the digital age. AKQA is trying to move into our space -- agencies are put into boxes, but that doesn't represent the reality now.