Claire Beale on Advertising
As a top name quits BBH, can an agency be big and beautiful?
Monday 23 October 2006
Perhaps more than any industry, advertising is a people business. The fact that most of its best practitioners work within a couple of miles of each other, with Soho still the industry's heart, means that it's a close-knit community. So, every hiring, firing and fling gets pored over with intensity, and last week's people news provided plenty of fat to chew.
First up, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, an agency held in such high regard by peers that it's not often at the centre of industry gossip. Could there be trouble at the top?
BBH does succession management very well. In fact, it does loyalty very well; it has always been an agency for which people have fought to work, and once in, they tend to stick around. It nurtures careers, promotes wisely, and usually hangs on to its best people in an industry where staff churn is usually high.
So the news that its deputy chairman and top planner, Guy Murphy, is jumping ship to JWT after 14 years came as a shock - not only because the move suggests a ruffle in the otherwise smooth management strategy at BBH, but because JWT is so counter to the culture Murphy is used to.
Murphy takes on the global planning director mantle at JWT, an agency sometimes called the home of planners; its heritage in the discipline is unquestioned. Even so, JWT seems an odd place for someone used to the creative oxygen of BBH and the nimble micro-network culture. It's certainly a challenge for Murphy, and will stretch his management skills to the limit. But Murphy is a coup for JWT, a strong signal that the network is finally focused on reinvention.
What it says about BBH right now is rather harder to fathom, but Murphy's departure has sent eyebrows skywards. And the emergence of cracks in the agency that has generally been considered London's finest for the past few years is being gleefully picked over by rivals. After BBH won the huge Omo and British Airways businesses last year, observers have been predicting a tough time for the agency as it struggles to bed down such enormous international accounts.
And Murphy's departure follows a patchy creative performance at the agency this year. There was the exit of £50m of Sony Ericsson business (resigned by BBH after the agency felt compromised in its ability to deliver good work on the account), and the decision to part with a couple of smaller clients who were providing conflict problems. As a result, rivals have been painting a picture of crisis.
In truth, BBH's success is bound affect the agency's culture and the sort of work it produces. You don't take on a huge piece of Unilever business without some compromise to your reputation as a local hotshop. The toe-curling ads for Surf highlight quite how much the agency is compromising its creative standards.
BBH is turning into an interesting case-study on whether it's possible to be big and beautiful. The reels of most big networked agencies in London would suggest that it's not.
* Jonathan Mildenhall is smart, black, gay and passionate. Given adland's appalling record on diversity, that makes him rarer than a female creative director. Now, Mildenhall is also off, quitting as strategy director of Mother to become vice-president global marketing at Coca-Cola.
For a guy whose career looked on the skids a couple of years ago after an embarrassingly thwarted move to TBWA New York, Mildenhall makes a triumphant gamekeeper. And he's the second adman in a month to jump client-side to a big marketing job: Rick Bendel quit Publicis a couple of weeks ago to become Asda's marketing chief. A trend?
At Coke, Mildenhall will command a $2bn marketing arsenal and work with the world's best creative agencies, Mother among them. Expect Mother's ascendancy on Coke's roster to continue once Mildenhall is installed in Atlanta.
BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW
Seventy thousand litres of paint, 622 bottle bombs, 455 mortars, 1,700 detonators. For sheer bravura, the new Sony Bravia ad from Fallon, directed by Jonathan Glazer, wins hands down as the best ad this week.
And it's good. OK, not as good as "balls", its breathtakingly beautiful predecessor. That's impossible. But "paint" is stunning. Like Bravia, it's all about colour - bright, primary, kiddie colour, exploding all over a Glasgow council estate. There's no narrative, no real depth: it's all spectacle. But what a spectacle...
What really takes the breath is the sheer effort that has gone into setting it up. All that paint, all those explosives, and all meticulously placed and knife-edge timed. And the pattering of paint as it showers to earth at the end is exquisite.
The TV ad is the culmination of months of carefully seeding interest in the film. From fuzzy making-ofs on YouTube and genuine consumer webchat about the ad to teasers on bravia-advert.com and a well-orchestrated PR campaign, "paint" is an example of how advertising as entertainment can extract maximum value from a budget.
It is not only one of the best ads of the year, but one of the smartest campaigns as well.
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