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'Mad Men' ad agency BBH sells to Publicis for £100m

Founders cash in on 30 years of global success. By Gideon Spanier

Bartle Bogle Hegarty, one of London's most famous ad agencies, has been sold in a deal that will make its "Mad Men" founders a fortune.

BBH – whose campaigns for Levi 501 jeans, Audi cars and Häagen Dazs ice cream became global sensations – is being bought by the French group Publicis in a cash deal that values the business at more than £200m.

The 53 partners in the agency are likely to collect more than £100m for their 51 per cent stake.

The agency, which is led by co-founders Sir John Hegarty and Nigel Bogle, would not discuss the sale price but annual revenues from BBH's seven offices, which include Brazil, are more than £120m.

Founded in 1982, BBH became one of London's most celebrated agencies as it created glossy adverts that often combined humour, music and sexual energy and came to define the Eighties.

These included the Levi's commercial that featured Nick Kamen stripping down to his boxers in a launderette and Audi's Vorsprung Durch Technik campaign. More recently, the agency was behind the rapping farmers TV commercial for yoghurt brand Yeo Valley and The Guardian newspaper's Three Little Pigs commercial.

Messrs Hegarty, 68, and Bogle, 65, were already wealthy after selling a 49 per cent stake in 1997 and will now take a lesser role. Co-founder John Bartle had already stepped down.

Mr Bogle said they felt "it was the right time" to sell. "It's always good to do this when you're in a very strong position creatively," he explained.

BBH won more awards than any other London agency at last month's annual Cannes Lions, the world's most prestigious advertising festival.

Publicis will now own 100 per cent of BBH. But Mr Bogle said he had received a guarantee that the agency would retain its independence within the wider group, which also owns Saatchi & Saatchi, and that its culture – very different from that of Sterling Cooper, the fictional agency in the hit US show Mad Men – would not change.

"A lot of effort has gone into ensuring this won't change BBH in terms of the values, the culture and the micro-network," he said. "I think with a lot of agencies, when the founders step back, the agency fades – that ain't going to happen with us."

BBH, which is based in Soho, employs around 400 people in London and 1,000 worldwide. This is just the latest in a wave of acquisitions of London ad agencies.

The British group WPP bought Farringdon-based digital agency AKQA in an estimated £350m deal in June and US giant Omnicom paid around £55m for Adam & Eve, the Covent Garden agency behind the John Lewis adverts.