INTERNATIONAL: THE DECISION MAKERS/JEAN MARIE DRU - Still fiercely independent Frenchman in an English court - Karen Yates finds BDDP’s global chief Jean Marie Dru is all charm - but try not to mention mergers

By KAREN YATES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 December 1997 12:00AM

One of Jean Marie Dru’s favourite stories is about our own Mark Wnek. It centres on how Dru’s agency, BDDP, had been trying to sell Wnek a campaign for a client that they shared across Europe. Wnek was digging his heels in about running the ads in the UK. ’But it’s a great campaign,’ spluttered its creator. ’It’s won lots of awards in France.’ ’You know what,’ countered Wnek. ’Winning awards in France is like being the downhill ski champion of Barbados.’

One of Jean Marie Dru’s favourite stories is about our own Mark

Wnek. It centres on how Dru’s agency, BDDP, had been trying to sell Wnek

a campaign for a client that they shared across Europe. Wnek was digging

his heels in about running the ads in the UK. ’But it’s a great

campaign,’ spluttered its creator. ’It’s won lots of awards in France.’

’You know what,’ countered Wnek. ’Winning awards in France is like being

the downhill ski champion of Barbados.’



In a very un-worldwide chairmanlike manner, Dru is laughing so hard at

this point he can barely speak. But quite why he has told this

self-deprecating story is still not clear. To say that English

advertising is better than French? He’s told me that already; and I’m

not sure I agree. To illustrate how witty Wnek is? Or is it to

illustrate what Dru himself has spent the past 26 years learning - that

it’s an uphill struggle trying to rule the advertising world from

France.



Dru is what my mother would call a ’typically charming Frenchman’,

complete with impossibly hazel eyes and an instantaneous smile. He is

also a founder of the once-proud French agency network that was rescued

last year in a daring takeover bid by Mike Greenlees’s GGT Group.



Was it awful to cede overall authority to a bunch of Brits? ’No, no,

no,’ Dru replies vehemently. BDDP’s financial problems had forced it

into the hands of bankers two years before, he explains. There follows a

pause for dramatic effect: ’Let me tell you, being owned by English

advertising people is ten times better.’



Dru is frank about what he calls the ’three phases’ of BDDP’s

development.


Its dizzy rise to creative acclaim and international status during the

late 80s; the ensuing years, when it paid the financial price for rapid

expansion and the recession; and its third phase - the future. This, he

affirms, will be driven by gentle expansion, mainly through a growth in

international clients. ’We made mistakes in the 80s,’ admits Dru,

including BDDP’s infamous bid for Boase Massimi Pollitt in 1989. ’We

thought - wrongly - that time was against us. We thought that within a

few years all the major networks would have merged. Now, nearly ten

years later, we understand that we can do things more slowly,’ he

says.



Dru, however, is clear that he and his partners also paid a heavy price

for being in Paris instead of London. Chastened by Saatchi & Saatchi’s

disastrous spending spree in the 80s, money lenders were wary of handing

over cash for yet more agency networks to expand, and BDDP could not

turn to the Paris Bourse as an alternative, since it is not as big as

London’s Stock Exchange.



Dru has so far conducted the interview with exquisite arm’s-length

manners.



Any extravagant claims are preceded by the words: ’With no arrogance, I

say ...’, while a gentle probe into sensitive topics yields a polite:

’That’s a very good question ...’. But asked if BDDP’s future could

involve linking up with another major network (as is rumoured at the

rival French group, Havas), the tension rises palpably, and an almost

vulnerable Dru flashes into view. ’I’ve been there - to hell and back,’

says his body language, ’and I don’t want to return.’



His voice, however, falters for a second or two before answering. It

talks of how the world will still need at least 15 global advertising

networks to service all its major international clients and, using this

criterion alone, BDDP is sure of a place. Then we enter more emotional

territory: ’We’ve lost our independence once. We’ve lost a lot of money,

just to keep our integrity,’ he says, describing the years he and his

partners struggled financially just to find a buyer to keep the network

intact.



’Why should we lose our independence twice?’



FACT FILE

1971 - Joined Dupuy Compton and rose to be creative director

1978 - Moved to become managing director of Young & Rubicam Paris

1984 - Set up BDDP out of Y&R subsidiary SNiP, in conjunction with

Jean-Claude Boulet - also from Y&R -and later Marie-Catherine Dupuy and

Jean-Pierre Petit

1988 - Billings reach dollars 70 million without making any

acquisitions. Presence now in Belgium, Germany and Italy

1989 - BDDP makes audacious - and unsuccessful - bid for Boase Massimi

Pollitt

1990 - BST-BDDP launches in UK. Network now also covers Russia, the

Netherlands and a stake in Asia’s Batey Ads

1992 - Financial problems hit BDDP

1996 - Acquisition by GGT



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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