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Creative string makes BBDO best network

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David abbott, the legendary British founder of London creative shop Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was the most elegantly witty speaker at a still-talked-about New York dinner roast for Allen Rosenshine, reducing the audience to helpless laughter as he affectionately skewered BBDO Worldwide's chairman-CEO for everything from stinginess to an obsession with the business. Allen, Mr. Abbott said, thinks charisma is a Japanese car.

Mr. Abbott has retired from his dual role as copywriter-chairman, but his London agency, the U.K.'s largest and perhaps BBDO's brightest star, hasn't missed a creative beat. In the last year, although Abbott-less, AMV has swept more creative awards than any other single agency at any network in the world and also created the commercial, for beer client Guinness, that won more creative plaudits than any other.

BIGGEST ACCOUNT

By BBDO standards, that's not surprising. BBDO Worldwide, named Global Agency Network of the Year two weeks ago (AA, Jan. 15) by Advertising Age and sibling magazine Ad Age Global, can pull off whopping global new-business wins like DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group, the biggest account move of 2000, but the network's core strength is a collection of dazzlingly creative and independent local agencies.

Take Almap BBDO, Sao Paulo, piloted by Marcello Serpa. The Brazilian agency's creative work is a look inside the art director's mind of Mr. Serpa, co-CEO and creative director. Mr. Serpa likes to comment that "You can tell 'War & Peace' without speaking a word."

As proof, one recent Almap BBDO spot for Volkswagen's Passat model is so simple that it consists of a routine checklist for a car about to leave the factory. As a pen moves down the long list making V-shaped check marks against crucial parts like transmission and steering wheel, it becomes clear that each re-checked item forms a neat double "V" evoking the familiar VW logo.

And if it seems odd for a BBDO agency to work with VW, a DDB Worldwide account in most international markets, it is. In Brazil, Volkswagen opted for Mr. Serpa's agency and he, despite BBDO's global Chrysler win, is opting out of handling that new account in order to keep his winning partnership with VW, his largest client.

BEHIND DENTSU

By gross income, Omnicom Group's BBDO is the second largest U.S. consolidated agency after McCann-Erickson World-

wide, with 1999 worldwide gross income of $1.9 billion. In 2000, BBDO won more creative awards than any other agency network, according to the Gunn Report, an authoritative creative ranking based on agency networks' performance in ad shows worldwide.

Late to the international network game, BBDO relies on its strong local shops to be leaders and has virtually no regional management-the job of running Asia, for instance, was vacant for 18 months until last October. All that creativity and independence isn't always easy to manage, especially when the creative partners often own a stake in the local office.

"It's hard to herd this particular roomful of cats," says one BBDO executive. Top creative agencies and new-business go-getters like AMV BBDO, Almap BBDO, Spain's Tiempo BBDO and Australia's largest agency Clemenger BBDO "still see themselves as AMV, Almap, Tiempo and Clemenger," he says.

France's CLM BBDO, for example, once announced that the Paris agency would take over international creative leadership on the flagship Pepsi-Cola account, and even happily issued a press release. An outraged BBDO head office in New York issued a denial. In fact, New York continues to lead the U.S. business, but for the rest of the world, where the Pepsi generation doesn't really exist, CLM BBDO is the leader, in partnership with creative directors from Brazil, Australia and Spain, in spinning out the "Ask for more" theme more relevant to developing cola markets.

TALENT SCARCE IN ASIA

In Asia, where creative talent is scarce and Westerners are often imported to fill the gap, BBDO has an unfair share. Two of the region's best creatives, Thailand's Suthi Sucharittanonta and Decha Tangpanitansook, are executive creative director and CEO, respectively, of Damask BBDO in Bangkok. Another star, David Guerrero, chairman-executive creative director of BBDO Guerrero Ortega in Manila, oversees distinctive FedEx Corp. creative work.

Striking print ads pair Asian artifacts with large European landmarks to hit home that FedEx can deliver impressively bigger freight from Asia to Europe than other courier services. One ad juxtaposes a huge carved Asian chair that dwarfs the Arc de Triomphe. In another, a Japanese slipper is the drawbridge for a German castle.

BBDO's leaders around the world have heeded the rallying cry, "The Work, the Work, the Work," unleashed at a worldwide meeting of 325 key managers in Santa Fe, N.M., by Phil Dusenberry, vice-chairman of BBDO Worldwide and chairman of BBDO New York.

To inspire his troops, Mr. Dusenberry presciently showed an early rough cut of the U.K. Guinness spot "Surfer," which depicts surfers awaiting the perfect wave in a sea so turbulent that the cresting waves turn into majestic horses.

The BBDO audience loved the spot that would soon sweep creative awards around the globe. By then, London had already moved on. "Bet on Black," the unlikely Guinness sequel to "Surfer," follows a dramatic but not exactly fast-paced race-among snails.

Contributing: Richard Linnett.

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