BBH beats up on bigs with $400 million week

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The biggest agency networks have hundreds of offices, and insist that's what it takes to handle international clients. But with the five-and-a-half office Bartle Bogle Hegarty snagging $400 million in global new business last week, it seems not all marketers agree.

Bartle Bogle picked up the $90 million British Airways account and, 48 hours later, the bulk of Unilever's $280 million-plus detergent spending for the Omo, Persil, Skip and other brands grouped into a platform known as "Dirt is Good" (see Player Profile, page 42).

Compared to networks more than 10 times bigger, Bartle Bogle is an awkward size and is approaching the end of its founders' careers (John Bartle retired in 1999; CEO Nigel Bogle and Chairman John Hegarty are still actively involved, although Mr. Hegarty is learning to make wine at his vineyard in France).

In the last three years Bartle Bogle has grown by 40% to about $1 billion in billings, with revenue of about $100 million, and headcount is up to 650 from 400, said Chief Operating Officer Simon Sherwood. Last week's wins add almost another 40% to billings, indicating that there may be a future for at least one small global network.

"What we can offer clients is not necessarily for everybody," Mr. Sherwood said. "It's a small group of extremely talented people who have all worked together for a very long time, are very collaborative, and have short lines of communication-that's the kind of feedback we get from clients who value that more than how many flags are on the map."

Mr. Sherwood, for instance, joined the agency when it opened 23 years ago, and the agency's CEOs for the U.S. and Asia, Gwynn Jones and Ben Fennell, started as trainees in the London office.

Wild card

Ironically, Bartle Bogle was thrown in as a wild card in British Airways' last global pitch a decade ago, and almost walked off with the business. This time, the agency beat incumbent M&C Saatchi, JWT and DDB.

Bartle Bogle was added to the Unilever detergent pitch, originally envisioned as a winner-take-all shootout between incumbents Lowe, with an estimated two-thirds of the business up for grabs, and JWT. The three agencies were evaluated over 20 weeks in a series of seven meetings each held in places like Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mumbai, India; and even Durban, South Africa. The process ended with a three-hour pitch in London in late September to nine Unilever executives and Alan Thompson, head of the Haystack Group, the U.K. agency search consultant that ran both the Unilever and BA pitches.

In the end, Unilever awarded Bartle Bogle "global strategic and creative stewardship" for the "Dirt is good" detergents, and Lowe retained creative and executional responsibility in some markets "working within the worldwide strategic framework developed" by Bartle Bogle, according to the company.

"We undertook a rigorous pitch process and ultimately decided that BBH offered the greatest strategic insight, creativity and vision for the future of the brand," said Keith Weed, Unilever's group VP-global home care. Mr. Weed flew back from India on Oct. 12 and sauntered into Bartle Bogle the next day bearing bottles of champagne and good news.

One executive familiar with the pitch said Unilever rather likes having one main agency and "another one to ginger it up." Bartle Bogle handles Axe in the U.S. and Europe, for instance, but Lowe's Vegaolmosponce also works on the brand from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Mr. Sherwood said the agency won't open any more offices to handle the new accounts.

In London, Bartle Bogle had a reputation as a hot shop. When it opened in Singapore and New York the agency struggled to replicate that mystique, and those agencies grew slowly. Bartle Bogle then bought a stake in NeoGama, Sao Paulo, and in the last year started building up in Tokyo. Mr. Sherwood calls the latest office, in Shanghai, embryonic and says "the big trumpet blast [in China] will be next year."

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