Unilever, BA work pushes BBH to top

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[London] soon after Bartle Bogle Hegarty opened, Chief Executive Nigel Bogle told Omnicom Group's Bruce Crawford about his young agency's vision of creating a micro-network to offer tailor-made solutions for big marketers. His reaction: "Not in my lifetime, boy," Mr. Bogle recalls.

Mr. Crawford, still alive, is chairman of Omnicom, and these days, everyone wants to be like Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which in 2005 won major pitches for global clients ranging from Unilever to British Airways. BBH, which is 49% owned by Publicis Groupe, has turned that futuristic vision into much-envied reality.

It wasn't always easy. The fabled London agency didn't have the same mystique outside the U.K. The first international office was a modest effort in Singapore, followed by New York, where it took four long years to snag Levi's and high-profile Unilever brand Axe, both clients in Europe. An agency in Brazil, Neogama BBH, followed, and now the focus is on Asia, where Bartle Bogle has grown from one office to three in the last year.

"We faced a lot of skepticism when we started out 10 years ago building this new, different international model," says Simon Sherwood, worldwide chief operating officer. "It's no good unless the clients believe in it, too. The Omo win was particularly significant because the brand has for so long been associated with a traditional network. The fact that Unilever has moved to a different operating model shows that the world has moved toward us."

N.Y hub of global account

Increasingly, it does. In a single week in October, Bartle Bogle won British Airways' $90 million global account and most-about $250 million-of Unilever's $280 million global detergent review. The New York office became the hub for a global account for the first time, coordinating Unilever's $30 million Vaseline business. In 2005, the micro-network added $600 million in billings-a 40% increase to $1.5 billion-and projects a 14% increase in income. And the agency furthered its trademark great creative work and reputation for innovation.

Smirnoff Ice's "Uri" campaign, created by BBH London and New York, and the Sony Ericsson and Levi's work provided good examples of Bartle Bogle's creative strength.

"Our aim with the global review on Smirnoff Ice was to deliver the best creative in each market, rather than simply to recruit a global agency," says Jane Sutcliffe, marketing manager for Diageo's Smirnoff Ice, a $35.5 million win in 2005. "However, when we tested the creative idea that BBH developed in various markets around the globe, the results were consistently outstanding."

Marketers, often themselves undergoing restructuring, tolerate and even admire a network that boldly bills itself as "one agency in six places." And if floundering agency networks like Lowe and FCB are to survive, they will likely be closer to the Bartle Bogle model, with far fewer offices and layers.

TARGET ASIA

Unburdened by infrastructure, Bartle Bogle is nimble enough to go where the growth is-meaning Asia.

Overall, staff jumped to 650 last year from 550 people in 2004, and doubled to 100 from 50 in Asia, as a satellite office for Levi's in Tokyo was converted into a full-service agency and Bartle Bogle staffed up to enter Shanghai; in 2006 a new law in China will let agencies start wholly owned operations without saddling them with joint-venture partners.

Although half its six agencies are in Asia, Bartle Bogle plans to start a fourth, in India, within two years under pressure from Unilever, India's largest marketer.

By keeping a firm grip on its majority ownership, Bartle Bogle has the flexibility to choose to put building for the future ahead of immediate profits. "We couldn't do China if the partners didn't say go sideways for a year to go forward," says Ben Fennell, regional CEO of BBH for Asia, who leaves Singapore in February to become managing director in the U.K.

"We've made a good profit in Asia," he adds, "but we'll break even [in 2005]. We'll put the team in place, and the income will follow."

Bartle Bogle's stable, long-term management team includes two of the original three founders as well as executives like Mr. Fennell and New York CEO Gwyn Jones who joined straight out of college and worked their way up, and a few like-minded newcomers such as Steve Harty, the former president of Merkley Newman Harty, hired in 2005 as chairman of the New York office to raise the agency's U.S. profile.

"The people I have worked with at BBH are in a different league," says Margaret Jobling, the Axe/Lynx brand director for Europe, "just a totally different class, across both account management and planning."

Hot for Audi, Axe

In addition to the creative, award-winning TV and print ads Bartle Bogle is known for around the world, the agency continued to explore new ways to reach consumers. In the U.K., the Audi Channel debuted as a dedicated 24-hour digital channel with programming both Audi-specific and of general interest. In the U.S., an Axe online game called "Is Your Shower Hottie Ready?" drew more than 2 million unique visitors in three months; the viral effect was so strong that 50% of visitors didn't come through banner ads.

The agency went beyond its 2-year-old music publishing company Leap Music with Leap Masters, set up to buy sound recording copyrights on behalf of clients and agencies. The agency also started "engagement planning" to look at how consumers interact with content and navigate the changing media landscape, and hired a director of engagement planning. The agency also hired its first head of design, Declan Stone, in New York.

"We are acutely aware that achieving critical mass for our clients is getting harder and harder," says John Hegarty, chairman and worldwide creative director. "It is important to keep the business rejuvenated and vibrant while maintaining focus and stability."

Past Global Winners:

2004: TBWA Worldwide

2003: DDB Worldwide

2002: Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide

2001: BBDO Worldwide

2000: BBDO Worldwide

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