What’s really interesting about the appointment of Hugh Baillie as chief executive of Ogilvy Advertising is that he’s part of a breakaway. And the break is away from Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
Former group business director Baillie is being joined by Rachel Hatton as group head of strategic planning, and planning director at the ad agency. Hatton was head of planning at BBH during what may come to be seen as its heyday, when it won all those awards, culminating in the IPA Grand Prix and Agency of the Year title in 2008. Baillie helped to win the global Johnnie Walker business and has led some of the agency’s key accounts, Axe/Lynx, Britvic and Surf among them. Both are BBH stalwarts, Baillie having joined from Saatchi & Saatchi in 1998, and Hatton from Boase Massimi Pollitt (BMP) in 2000.
So, this is a significant coup for Ogilvy and a significant set-back for BBH. Baillie and Hatton come as a team (for example, they both worked on Britvic). It’s a little like that buddy-buddy wrench at DDB London when Paul Hammersley, then ceo, and David Hackworthy, planner, quit to go to The Red Brick Road in 2005.
What makes this worse for BBH is that the defection of senior staff to WPP agencies is becoming a habit. Richard Exon, ceo of RKCR/Y&R, once occupied a similar position to Baillie at BBH. True, he was seduced across at managing director level, and got the top job only after James Murphy set up his own agency, Adam & Eve. But let’s not split hairs. There was also the unfortunate matter of John O’ Keefe, who sat in the BBH creative pantheon only one echelon below Sir John Hegarty. He decided to seek his fortune as global creative director at WPP. Then there’s Guy Murphy, head of global planning, and Russell Ramsey, executive creative director, JWT London. Why has JWT come knocking on BBH’s door? Well, who else’s? BBH is the one to beat in JWT’s competitive creative set, and has the most clients in common (Unilever, Diageo and Vodafone spring to mind). If you can’t beat them, get them to join you, you might say.
Nor is the BBH exodus confined to WPP. Derek Robson quit to go to Goodby, in the USA, as a managing partner; Penny Herriman is managing director and – some would say – soon to be ceo of WCRS; Chris Harris was poached as managing director of Leagas Delaney.
Swallows not making a summer? Well maybe. Any agency which has attained the status of BBH is fair game for the headhunter. In a sense, it’s a back-handed compliment that rival agencies feel the need to pillage BBH for top talent.
Nonetheless, another conclusion can also be drawn. And I would be very surprised if this did not condition the thinking of at least some of those senior people who have recently defected. BBH is now 27 years old and in the throes of generational change. It has greatly expanded (into a micro-network) – which in itself offers fresh opportunity for younger talent. And in fairness it has tried hard to bring on a cohort of younger managers – of which London chief executive Gwyn Jones is perhaps the most prominent example. This has not been enough to quell mutinous thoughts in the marzipan layer, a few to the point of defecting. Of course, some of these people may have been talented, but not talented enough. BBH, like everyone else, has had to make some harsh decisions about the size of its workforce, which has been, literally, decimated. One in ten has gone or is going. Nevertheless, I cannot believe that every one of the top-flight defectors has had an assisted exit. After all, it’s also the case that the route upstairs, managerially speaking, is now blocked; and for ambitious people that is a signal to start looking elsewhere.
It is hard to think of BBH without Nigel Bogle, Jim Carroll or Simon Sherwood. On the other hand, if they do not outline their retirement plans in the foreseeable future, the result will be rebellion or atrophy. BBH, at very best, will become less an agency, more a law firm overloaded with “partners”. Not an enticing prospect for the UK’s premier creative shop.