By Published on .

"Erase Backer Spielvogel Bates from your memory."

That's the theme line of a TV campaign hitting the air in New Zealand as the agency this week assumes its new global moniker, Bates Worldwide.

The name change is an emotional issue for many longtime BSB executives, especially agency Chairman Carl Spielvogel. But for the architect of the repositioning effort, Michael Bungey, it embodies an effort to doctor the agency's dreary creative reputation and its bottom line.

"We've slimmed down, and people are having to work harder," Mr. Bungey said. On joining the moribund agency, "I thought it was slightly of a different era. Clients demand of us that we run a tight ship."

Partly as a result of those changes, the agency is popping up on more new-business pitches.

"The name change signals that BSB is now a reconstituted agency," said Arthur Anderson, managing partner of agency search consultancy Morgan, Anderson & Co., New York. "In the past few years, they haven't been top of mind when you think of major agencies. Now they're becoming a contender."

That's music to Mr. Bungey's ears. The low-key but business-savvy Brit-whose salary was $600,800 last year-is halfway through a three-year turnaround plan.

He was appointed worldwide president-chief operating officer in January 1993 from chairman of BSB Europe and chairman-CEO of BSB Dorland, London. He assumed the post after it was turned down by Alex Hamill, BSB's Asia/Pacific regional director.

Mr. Bungey's tenure has been punctuated by some respectable new-business gains, most notably $125 million from Warner-Wellcome Consumer Products, Miller Lite Ice and Cunard Line. Those recent coups have helped offset earlier losses of Philips Consumer Electronics' $20 million to $30 million account and the agency's loss since last summer of the lion's share of Campbell Soup Co.'s red and white $70 million account and its $15 million print account.

Last year, the agency's consolidated worldwide billings were $4.36 billion.

"It takes a while for an agency to become sexy, but your actions and the things you achieve can help that," said the silver-haired executive, who likes to blow smoke rings with his Monte Cristo cigars.

Mr. Bungey acknowledged the name Bates, from the old Ted Bates Worldwide, doesn't represent stellar creativity, but that's fine with him. The intense account man has refined his earlier views on the feasibility of injecting small boutique-type creativity into Promethean agencies.

"We certainly need to establish a creative aura at the agency, but I'm recognizing that clients' definition of creativity varies," Mr. Bungey said.

Mr. Bungey's challenge now is to maintain his and the agency's momentum; help BSB unit AC&R, New York, retain its cornerstone Estee Lauder Inc. account; and attract new-account headliners when many categories are blocked by both BSB's and sister agency Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising's clients.

BSB remains a contender for the U.S. Postal Service account, but a conflict with Saatchi client General Mills is forcing the agency to withdraw from the $20 million to $30 million review for Ralcorp Holdings' breakfast food business.

With new business a primary charge, an executive close to Mr. Bungey said the hope is that Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chairman Maurice Saatchi will, for the first time, aid in BSB's new-business efforts.

For Mr. Bungey's part, agency insiders say the executive-who admits the hardest part of his job has been dealing with employees' "different agendas"-needs to work harder to make senior-level BSB executives feel part of an inner circle.

"Michael's challenge now is to have the agency view him as a leader rather than as a representative of the holding company," said one observer. "There's still some concern among senior managers in the office who are not certain whether they're on his team or not."

It's a bit unclear how the roles of two who clearly are part of his team-British imports Les Stern, exec VP-account planning director, and Andrew Cracknell, executive creative director of BSB Worldwide and BSB Dorland, London-will evolve as the agency structure is further tweaked.

"Their job is to be part of the process of change," Mr. Bungey said when pressed about the executives' U.S. responsibilities. "As things evolve and change, it doesn't mean that the same players have to do their same jobs forever."

What's certain is that Mr. Bungey is putting down roots. Within weeks, the London-born executive and his wife plan to trade the Manhattan apartment they sublet from Cher for a place of their own on Central Park West.

At BSB headquarters, meanwhile, tensions between Messrs. Bungey and Spielvogel have intensified, primarily the result of executive shifts and the name change, but Mr. Bungey's advantage is support from the parent company.

"The perception is that Bates has turned around dramatically and is beginning to be a good agency," said Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chief Executive Charles Scott. "I think Michael's done a great job. At the end of the day when you're chief executive, you take a lot of [hassles] for things that aren't your fault, and he deserves a lot of credit."

Geoffrey Lee Martin and Laurel Wentz contributed to this story.

Most Popular
In this article: