Opinion: Perspective - Bring on the advertising industry's entrepreneurs

By Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 05 December 2008 12:00AM

There is something magnificent but also a little deflating about the news that Beattie McGuinness Bungay has sold a minority stake to Cheil.

Magnificent because it's an endorsement of a great British agency, still in its infancy but encapsulating many of the qualities that still ensure Britain is a major player on adland's world stage.

BMB boasts one of the UK's best creative talents of the past decade or two, Trevor Beattie. Not everyone's cup of builders' brew, I know, but Beattie has been a great ambassador for British creativity and remains infectiously passionate and energetic about the business.

And in a short space of time - with his partners Andrew McGuinness and Bil Bungay (in Beattie's shadow but nevertheless vital to the success of the agency) - Beattie's built up a brand that has proved itself one of the better agencies in town.

It's dominated our new-business league all year, it's done some lovely work (Carling, Wall's), it's pushed the boundaries of what's expected of a creative agency (designing airline liveries and books) and it's earnt itself a hefty (though undisclosed) price tag.

Even better, BMB has struck a deal that will allow it to retain control (for the time being) and, crucially, export the BMB brand into new territories such as the US and South America - a vital way of ensuring that the UK remains a recognised centre of advertising excellence. Bruce Haines, the global chief of Cheil and a man who knows the UK ad industry better than most, has done Cheil proud with the deal.

But the BMB/Cheil tie-up is also disappointing because a great homegrown agency is now in hock to a foreign predator. Yes, BMB would not be able to plant its flag overseas this quickly without outside help. And heck, the idea that a start-up can cash in after three years might even encourage more agency launches. But the market needs more entrepreneurial talent, taking risks and trying new approaches without imposed growth targets to meet and shareholders to satisfy.

BMB would argue that Cheil allows them to continue being entrepreneurial and continue pushing the boundaries (indeed, that's why Cheil has bought them). But whichever way you cut it, it's not the same as being hungry and flying free from parental pressures. Still, I'd bet Beattie and co won't be taking their feet off the accelerator any time soon. And you've got to hand it to them for pulling off a blinding deal so soon after the Omnicom talks disintegrated. Can they "do a Bartle Bogle Hegarty" and remain true to their independent philosophy and their culture? I hope so. In the meantime, they leave a gap for the next successful independent start-up. Candidates please.

Strictly speaking, Ogilvy Advertising's Rory Sutherland hasn't been voted in as the IPA president yet. But if the IPA council goes temporarily mad and decides not to appoint him tonight (Thursday), then they deserve public humiliation. Because Sutherland is a great choice.

Erudite, eloquent, entertaining, absolutely committed to the business, Sutherland will be a perfect ambassador. Crucially, he will also be (astoundingly) the IPA's first president with a creative background and its first from the direct side of the business, both important credentials when it comes to battling advertising's corner through a downturn.

It's interesting to note, too, that Sutherland's Ogilvy boss, the irrepressible Gary Leih, is currently the president of the European Association of Communications Agencies, so we can expect more co-operation and communication than ever over the agenda coming out of Brussels.

The outgoing IPA president, Moray MacLennan (now off to make M&C a proper network at last) hands over a nascent creative agenda and some good groundwork pushing advertising back into the boardroom. But, as ever, the job is very far from done; Sutherland would definitely get my vote to take all this forward.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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