And while Bartle is one of five agencies currently contending for Levi's $90 million U.S. jeans account, there is life beyond Levi's for the U.K. hot shop, which has a client list that also includes Audi cars, Whitbread Brewing, TAG Heuer watches, Lego building blocks and Unilever.
STRONG VISUAL SENSE
The shop is known for an independent streak matched by provocative, witty ads dominated by strong visuals and ideas, complete with musical scores and photography that draw in viewers despite a dearth of dialogue.
The agency is notorious for its refusal to do speculative creative work for a pitch. Citing its reputation for strategic thinking, marketers like Polaroid Europe have frequently added the shop as a wild card to pitches involving major agency networks -- and Bartle more often than not walks off with the account.
"About half our business is from international clients," said Co-Chief Executive John Bartle, 53. "And more than 40% of our income comes from work that runs overseas."
Bartle even came close to winning the $90 million British Airways account two years ago, but lost out to M&C Saatchi largely due to a lack of overseas media buying capabilities. Its deal with Burnett plugs that crucial gap and may strengthen Bartle's position in the Levi's pitch.
Nigel Bogle, 50 and now co-chief executive, Mr. Bartle and Mr. Hegarty, 53, started their London agency in 1982 after walking out of TBWA. Levi's was a founding client and was the first to run Bartle work throughout Europe.
The agency's moody '50s Americana spots made 501 jeans trendy among young Europeans. Bartle next tackled Asia with the promise of Levi's business there, choosing Singapore to open its first outpost in October 1996.
Bartle is the U.K.'s 14th largest agency, with 1996 gross income of $38.9 million and billings of $291.3 million, according to Advertising Age figures.
U.S. OFFICE OPENS SOON
Regardless of what happens with the Levi's U.S. review, Bartle will open an office in the U.S. next year, and will set up Asian and U.S. offices for Motive, its media planning subsidiary.
"It's business as usual, but our business as usual will change," Mr. Bartle said. "Whether or not we win Levi's, we'll have three offices by the end of next year."