Trevor Beattie has such a high public profile in the U.K. that he's often assumed to be the B in TBWA. Now that he's quit as chairman and creative director of the Omnicom Group network's London office, Beattie will have to prove that being the B in his own startup-Beattie McGuinness Bungay-carries the same A-list status.
After 15 successful years at TBWA, Beattie-along with Bill Bungay, his art director, and Andrew McGuinness, his chief executive-is gambling on an independent future. The startup is big news not just because of Beattie's celebrity-he is the man behind FCUK, Sony PlayStation and many other award-winning and controversial campaigns-but because BMB is expected to provide a template for a new kind of agency.
"In France, advertising is called 'publicite,' and that's what we want to do," Beattie says. "It's about selling stuff, whatever the channel. For the last five years I've been doing a lot more than advertising anyway." His credentials beyond advertising are impressive, particularly for a man who has worked within the confines of a traditional agency for so long. Beattie shaped and co-produced a series of programs for Adidas in a deal with MTV. He came up with the idea of FCUK FM, a transatlantic radio station funded by the fashion retailer French Connection that recently won two top prizes at the U.K.'s biggest radio awards ceremony. He also staged an elaborate campaign for McCain's oven chips that involved journalism, PR, spin, conventional advertising, interactive television and package design. "It's a case study of the sort of thing I'd like to do next," he says. "It absorbed me so much that I couldn't work on anything else for a whole month, which is not good when you have 42 clients to look after."
Despite the freedom and flexibility he was allowed at TBWA, Beattie wanted to downsize and therefore chose not to set up within the Omnicom stable. "Omnicom has a great attitude-as long as you meet the numbers they let you get on with life, and they want you to be as creative as possible. But I wanted a fresh start. It was either make a clean break or stay where I was, and I wanted to start something on my own, with no client conflict and no baggage. I was doing a lot of projects in my spare time because the clients I wanted to work with didn't have big enough budgets to interest the agency."
Such projects include launching a girl band and staging a saucy theater show called Immodesty Blaize and Walter's Burlesque. The show, in particular, has fired Beattie's imagination: "It takes a lot of planning and organization that a big agency is not nimble enough for." He claims that people are now queuing up for his input into theater productions and that he has some more commercial opportunities in mind for future shows. "You could use music from commercials in the show and then have the products on sale in the foyer at the interval," he suggests as an example.
Beattie is a true enthusiast who loves the glamour and excitement of the worlds of show business, sport and politics. Despite his modest roots (he was one of five brothers growing up in the unglamorous city of Birmingham), his passion and commitment have earned him connections in high places. In the U.K. he is known as "the Labor Party's adman" because he masterminded ad campaigns for Tony Blair's three successive election victories. In addition, he has worked with his boxing heroes, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis, and through his client Stephen Marks, founder of French Connection, Beattie met director Matthew Vaughan, whose most recent film is the British gangster flick Layer Cake. The relationship with Vaughan has become a business partnership, with Beattie handling the marketing of Layer Cake. Vaughan is now loosely affiliated with BMB, and for his next project, X-Men 3, the agency will be consulting on all the huge commercial opportunities presented by a Hollywood blockbuster.
"We'll never be big enough to take on gigantic accounts, but we will be able to work with gigantic clients," Beattie says. "We will do projects to help businesses in the U.S. and the U.K. without the intention of taking on the whole beast." The relationship with Marks of FCUK is the sort of collaborative and personal partnership that Beattie hopes to replicate with all BMB's clients. Marks has already followed Beattie from TBWA to BMB; Richard Branson has asked BMB to create a campaign for the launch of the Virgin Galactic passenger space shuttle in 2007; and the agency has won the creative and strategic planning business for Sky News, which will entail program development and on-air branding work as well as advertising. Other clients will be announced in the next few weeks.
"We've always done our best work with clients who are mates," Beattie says. "We want to offer a personal service-clients demand closeness and they want to see me in every meeting, which is hard when there are 42 of them and many are international-it was running away from me. You can't be everywhere at once."
Having said that, Beattie has started BMB precisely so he can be everywhere at once. While he's smart enough to avoid making any claims about reinventing the agency, he talks excitedly about "mucking in" with clients and developing payment models that ensure "we will have the same agenda and a genuine stake in what clients want to achieve. Some clients will pay in the traditional way but we'll also be able to help out or do deals where we get paid later. We might take a percentage of a client's profits or even a percentage of the company itself."
Staffing will also be handled differently. A small core team will be fortified with freelancers brought in for specific projects. "You don't need to lock everyone in-you find the right talent for the right job." BMB is not short of applicants, of course, but Beattie complains that "a lot of people want to join us for the wrong reasons-they are after their moment in the spotlight. We want creative people who are down-to-earth; we don't want any bullshit or jargon."
Despite the nontraditional approach to building an agency, Beattie is careful not to denounce the business that has made him a household name. "Advertising is at the heart of what we do. We are an advertising agency, but our mission is to solve business problems, not to make ads." This no-nonsense approach is, he believes, the key to pulling in clients. And his ambitions for BMB? "We want to have a small group of international clients to whom we are personally dedicated and with whom we have lots of fun. We want to do things differently-not to win awards but to help clients sell stuff and to rattle a few cages."