Break-up of the odd couple that kept AMV BBDO on top of the league table

July 27, 2012

The decision of Farah Ramzan Golant, executive chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, to leave the agency and become chief executive of independent production group All3Media, brings to an end one of the most remarkable partnerships in recent UK advertising.

Ramzan Golant was part of a managerial duumvirate, latterly triumvirate, that has made AMV BBDO indisputable queen of the Nielsen UK Agencies League table years after all the partners who created the agency’s original winning formula had departed the scene.

That in itself is a remarkable feat. One that the second generation of management at BBH has yet to prove it can pull off. Highly creative agencies rarely make a successful transition to second-generation maturity within a more corporate, international framework. Boase Massimi Pollitt tried it, as part of DDB, but arguably AMV has been a lot more successful. The credit for that achievement – and the collegiate leadership style that has effected it – must in some measure go to former group chairman Michael Baulk – the surprisingly self-effacing showman who was the agency’s fourth partner in all but name.

Baulk was the watchmaker. He set up the action and left. Two women have proved themselves the jewels in the works: Cilla Snowball and Ramzan Golant. Snowball was originally the agency chief executive but after a bit of a wobble and top management reshuffle in 2005, Ramzan Golant was brought in as agency CEO and Snowball moved up to the group chairman and CEO role formerly occupied by Baulk.

The ensuing partnership has been unique in itself: two women at the summit of the top UK advertising agency. But by all accounts, extra piquancy has been added by the, at times, difficult relationship between them. They are very unalike: the ‘odd couple’ comes to mind. Ramzan Golant is fiercely bright, an aggressive go-getter. Snowball has the emollient people skills that keep clients and staff on side.

If rumour is true, the ever-ambitious Ramzan Golant at one time aspired to follow in the footsteps of another of Baulk’s protégés, Andrew Robertson – as chief executive of the BBDO network’s premier US agency. Clearly she has readjusted her sights.

Like Baulk’s manoeuvrings behind the scenes nearly a decade ago, there is a strong hint of managed succession about Ramzan Golant’s decision to step down. For some time, Ian Pearman has been understudying her role. Pearman was brought in as agency managing director in 2008 and early last year moved up to CEO. Which left Ramzan Golant in the surely impermanent role of agency executive chairman. Pearman now takes on that role as well. He has already made a series of changes to the senior AMV management team, including the promotion of Richard Arscott, head of account management, to managing director.

Ramzan Golant leaves AMV in October after 22 years at the agency and starts at All3Media, which has made such TV hits such as Peep Show and Midsomer Murders, the following month.

UPDATE 3/8/12: The other shoe drops. AMV has hired three industry stalwarts to add extra fibre to the new management team headed by Ian Pearman. Most interesting is Michael Pring, who only three months ago quit Dare to become international managing partner of Leagas Delaney. Joining him as managing partners in the new set-up are Tom Vick – once of Duck Finn Grubb Waters, more recently joint managing director of JWT London – who has been “resting” at headhunter The Lighthouse Company; and Clive Tanqueray, who was client services director of Sapient Nitro. Both Tanqueray and Pring have had long experience of working at AMV. Interestingly, the three new members of the senior team report to Pearman directly rather than to new managing director Arscott. Their rapid appointment following Ramzan Golant’s announcement of her departure reinforces the notion of engineered management change.

Adam & Eve sets its seal on creative style with Google+ work

April 5, 2012

All advertising is, in a certain sense, the cultivation of cliché. Agencies first determine – with whatever artifice their planning departments can provide – suitable socio-economic stereotypes which their creative departments then bombard relentlessly with the most seductive messages they can contrive.

Success and consistency in this trade leads to agency work acquiring a highly recognisable hallmark. “Branding”, if you like; “generic cliché” if you don’t. For example, Boase Massimi Pollitt became widely known for its attachment to furry animals, Allen Brady & Marsh for its mastery of the jingle-ad and Bartle Bogle Hegarty for its creative reinvention of pop culture.

I was reminded of this insight when reviewing Adam & Eve’s first work for Google+, the search giant’s overarching response to Facebook and Twitter. Here it is:

Notice anything about it? Yes, it is another fine piece of work from a hot-shop coming of age. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has missed out the Seventh Age of Man in “All the World’s a Stage”. But since it’s all about Second Childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, and this is a piece of consumer advertising, the agency can be forgiven for the omission. Something else?

Yes. The “Journey Through Life” theme, which A+E (not to be accidentally confused with A&E) has made its own. Particularly in a suburban, middle-class context. Here, just to remind you is some John Lewis advertising by the same agency:

It’s a theme that the James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest team seem to have imported from Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – from which they spectacularly broke away in 2007. Judging, at least, by this early Lloyds Bank commercial from the self-same:

I have my own modest contribution to the “Life’s journey” genre. It’s taken from John Dryden:

Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; the world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

No takers in advertising, I suspect. But it was the inspiration of a famous play.

Why The Guardian’s Three Little Pigs commercial hits the spot

March 3, 2012

“The Three Little Pigs”, directed by Ringan Ledwidge, is the best piece of advertising to come out of BBH in a very long time.

More to the point, it’s also the best piece of advertising to come out of The Guardian, whose bar in these matters is very high.

Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, explaining the ad’s rationale, makes reference to the title’s “first major brand positioning TV ad for more than 25 years”. That comment, and The Three Little Pigs’ endline – “The Whole Picture” – are informal tribute to another mould-breaking ad of its time: Boase Massimi Pollitt’s 1986 Points of View, seen here:

The verities of professional journalism do not change over the years: accuracy, balance, perspective and meticulous checking of the background facts being high among them. But, my word, hasn’t the challenge of achieving them become incomparably tougher in the intervening quarter century.

Then, journalists only had to battle with their rivals, their editors, their lawyers (and occasionally their consciences) to be the first to stand up often uncomfortable truths. Now, they must also contend with an army of citizen bloggers and social media aficionados determined, moment by moment, to put their own definitive stamp upon the great issues of the day.

Twenty-six years ago, The Guardian’s world consisted of a relatively comfortable tripartite perspective. Now, the Whole Picture is a ceaseless 24/7 kaleidoscope, made possible by near universal access to the internet. How to surf this tsunami of information, while retaining a sense of detachment and independent judgement?

Like it or not, this is the brave new world journalism must embrace, a world Rusbridger dubs “open journalism” in his repositioning statement. “People are taking part in journalism, rather than being passive recipients. That’s a mindset that says journalists are not the only experts in the world, that they can’t give an adequate account of subjects, issues, the world around them, unless they enlist others,” he says.

Creative momentum for M&C, Wieden, Del Campo and – of course – BBDO

January 24, 2011

Just like the business and financial world, the advertising creative industry has its reporting seasons. The Cannes Festival represents the annual benchmark and we are now at the interim stage, with the Gunn Report and AdAge – the industry’s biggest trade paper – issuing their verdicts.

To stretch the analogy a little further, these awards “analysts” heavily favour momentum stocks. That may be because – like their financial counterparts – they’re at heart an unadventurous lot who don’t like nasty surprises. Win at Cannes, and the chances are you’ll pick up a truckload of gongs elsewhere. King of the number-crunchers is the Gunn Report, which resembles Wall Street’s Quants in more ways than one. To quantitative analysis, which monitors an agency’s creative performance over many years and almost every conceivable awards scheme, is added a mysterious proprietary ingredient. We’re never quite sure of the relative weight put on the data. How else explain BBDO’s preeminence as top network for the fifth successive year?

Enough of this. The point I’m making is there are no great surprises at the half-way stage, although some of the results are well worth highlighting (BBDO’s not excluded). Rather pleasingly, M&C Saatchi’s print campaign for Dixons (honourable mentions at Cannes; it also picked up a top award at Epica) was Gunn’s global winner. The art of long copy is not yet dead.

With similar predictability, Wieden & Kennedy was garlanded  AdAge’s Agency of the Year, primarily on the strength of Old Spice Guy. And rightly so. Anyone who can create celebrity out of Procter & Gamble advertising deserves a medal: especially so when the now lionised brand was as hopelessly quaint as Old Spice.

While we’re there, a nod in the direction of AdAge’s International Agency of the Year, Buenos Aires-based Del Campo Nazca Saatchi. Del Campo, which has just celebrated its first ten years, is the epitome of a rolling creative revolution which has now persuaded some premier league clients to consider Latin America as their first port of call when devising a global campaign. In Del Campos’ case, it has just been added to Coca-Cola’s international roster.

The secret of its success seems to be a carefully blended balance of creativity and planning, reminiscent of Boase Massimi Pollitt in the Eighties. Here, at any rate, are a couple of examples of its work. The famous Teletransporter commercial, for Andes beer, which was lauded at Cannes:

And Chocolate Meter, for Kraft, which has apparently resulted in a 50% increase in Cadbury sales:

Would you Adam+Eve what agencies call themselves these days?

October 5, 2010

The Assembly has just won the global account of big-four auditor Ernst & Young. Apparently, it produced a better ‘toolkit for accountants’ than anyone else. Ah well, you nod sagely, it’s obviously a B2B account – dull as ditchwater; no wonder it’s been won by an agency no one’s ever heard of before.

But you’d be profoundly wrong. In fact the pitch was highly competitive, handled by the AAR and featured about a dozen of adland’s finest – including BBH, Engine and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD). Perversely, The Assembly is probably the one name that wouldn’t trip off your tongue if you roll-called the whole longlist.

Sterling Cooper: When names were just names

Which brings me to my point. The Assembly is one of a crop of new agency names that vie with each other for esoteric distinction – but jeopardise their USP by being obscure and unmemorable. If the current name-game puzzles me, it must surely puzzle clients too.

How has this rash of self-indulgent agency nomenclature come about? Once upon a time it was oh-so-simple. Agencies were people businesses that recommended their brand through the charisma and usefulness of their founders. So, in the mists of time, we have J. Walter Thompson, Lord & Thomas, Ted Bates, Young & Rubicam, Ogilvy & Mather.

By the sixties, creativity has become the extra magic ingredient in the shingle. It put the Bill Bernbach into Doyle Dane, or for that matter the Draper into Sterling Cooper. Then in the seventies and eighties (a very British thing, this) comes the apotheosis of the planner: Boase Massimi Pollitt, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Simons Palmer Clemmow & Johnson. It was rare that anyone tore up the rulebook. True, there was the odd alien intervention such as Mojo from Australia; and of course the inimitable Andy Law, who founded St Luke’s. But wackiness came at a steep price. Mojo quickly lost its, and Law was a lot less successful in his next incarnation, which by its very name set itself up for a fall. Boymeetsgirl became Boyleavesgirl after Law quarrelled with his creative director Kate Stanners, and she quit.

You’d think this might be lesson enough for eager young entrepreneurs, but no. Today weird names have become the orthodoxy, and I’ve no doubt it has something to do with digital fragmentation and the increasing difficulty of framing the creative challenge.

Now, I’m all for imagination as long as it means something. Mother, Adam & Eve, yes (doh, it’s all about creativity). Glue: clever idea, sticking it all together. Saint@rkcr/y&r, sort of: bit of a mouthful though. Th_nk? No th*nk you: however pithy, it’s a sub’s nightmare; don’t ever expect a write-up in the FT. Lean Mean Fighting Machine? Looks a bit tame and flabby now it has been fired by Coke (see Andy Law above). 18 Feet and Rising? P-lease. How are we to know this is an obscure allusion to the excessive height of the agency’s three founders – and, even if we do, who cares?

And so on. Which brings me back to The Assembly. Actually, for all its superficial resemblance to a political convention or a Pentecostal sect, the name is not without relevance to the agency world. It reflects a pooling of creative talent. I quote from the CV of one of the founders: “The Assembly’s membership includes 12 Executive Creative Directors and 10 Creative Directors of some of the world’s most creative agencies, London’s foremost women’s artistic collective, a Harvard and MIT professor of culture and consumption, the creative duo behind cult Italian and Swedish fashion brands, the ex-manager of The Rolling Stones, the PR person for rock stars and presidents, a couple of renowned urban artists, one of the world’s most acclaimed architects and the man behind one of the most influential style websites, to name a few.” Phew, manage that if you can.

Such, though, are the complex, chaotic demands of creativity these days. No wonder agencies are suffering from an identity crisis.

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