An AMV BBDO advertising supplement: Profile/Michael Baulk, Andrew Robertson, Peter Souter - The new power generation. Abbott Mead’s seamless succession is the envy of adland. Stefano Hatfield reports on the new guard

Michael Baulk, Andrew Robertson and Peter Souter are probably the subject of more envy than any other trio in the UK advertising business.

Michael Baulk, Andrew Robertson and Peter Souter are probably the

subject of more envy than any other trio in the UK advertising

business.



It is they who have inherited the mantle of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s

founders, and who now run the agency at a time when it is indisputably

number one in the market.



To Baulk, in particular, this does a tremendous disservice. There is an

argument that before he stunned his former agency, Ogilvy & Mather, by

leaving to run AMV in 1986, the latter was still firmly in its nice,

classy, steady, middle-class, middle-sized pigeon-hole, and showed

little sign of the all-conquering period that was to lie ahead. While it

would be naive to lay this transformation at one man’s feet, he can be

seen as a catalyst for the change.



Baulk is arguably the most underrated man in British advertising in

every respect other than his remuneration package. He brought with him a

prodigiously restless energy and an unshakeable belief in the virtues of

enlightened capitalism. A showman who missed his true vocation as a

master of ceremonies, he in many ways fulfils that role for AMV.



He is the salesman extraordinaire, almost to the point of being unable

to help himself. It has led many to question whether he really believes

in what he’s selling. But this underestimates both his desire to be

doing something he believes is worthwhile and his frustration that he is

not actually a working creative. There are plenty of other agencies

where he could sell product more cynically.



He has some regret that he is seen first as a businessman not an adman,

whatever that may mean. There should be no regret, because there should

be no distinction. Of course, the numbers matter to him - and how - but

his stewardship of AMV has surely laid to rest the curious notion

peculiar to the British creative community; that creativity and

profitability are anathema to each other.



But having run the agency for 11 years, he has forged strong

relationships with senior clients who respect and trust his advice.



However, his schmoozing of clients and sweet-talking, tickling

persuasion of staff into doing his bidding have not always found favour

with everyone at the agency, since news he was to abandon his successful

partnership at O&M with Peter Warren and Don Arlett sent ripples through

adland.



A small minority find him just a little too flash. It’s an image, helped

by his idiosyncratic taste in the most expensive of suits, that is

impossible to resist. As a previous Campaign profile said of Baulk in

his O&M days: ’He was the barrow-boy of the team: young, energetic and a

bit of a street-fighter.’



Set against such criticisms should be the ranks of admen and women

who’ve worked for him at O&M and AMV who will tell you tales of Baulk’s

unquestioning personal generosity to them in times of crisis, and then

beg you not to write about it, for fear of embarrassing him.



In some ways it is a reputation similar to that of Sir Tim Bell - they

are viewed with suspicion by those who don’t know them, and inspire

unswerving loyalty among many who do. Baulk also fulfils a little

thought-about role at AMV that all organisations need: he draws the

flak, so that David Abbott can serenely get on with the job of being

’God’.



Think of John Birt at the BBC, minus the extreme vilification, and you

get the picture. Or rather, this was the picture. Today, Baulk has

earned his position in the AMV pantheon. And, perhaps ironically, it was

the arrival from WCRS in February 1995 of Baulk’s protege at O&M and

chosen successor, Andrew Robertson, that allowed this elevation to take

place.



Most people in advertising should have Andrew Robertson’s image

problems, but such as they are they involve being regarded as a Michael

Baulk clone.



This is a result of their long association, which dates from when Baulk

took the young media planner under his wing at O&M in the early 80s.



Robertson did model himself on Baulk and his management style, right

down to the obsession with the bottom line, the his-and-his Ferraris and

an equally flashy and idiosyncratic - if more acceptably contemporary -

taste in clothing.



However, they are also genuine friends who have always spent time

together outside the agency. Robertson has also always been mature

beyond his years, with an ability to exude calm in the face of adversity

evident throughout his twenties at O&M. He was marked clearly as a

future manager, and so the agency was miffed when, after a stint as

new-business director, he quit for J. Walter Thompson in 1989.



Robertson went to JWT believing he would run the agency one day, but a

year later, aged 30, he was lured by Robin Wight to the then

much-troubled WCRS to be its chief executive. There was also talk at the

time of Robertson starting up with the ousted GGT co-founder, Dave

Trott.



A controversial four-and-a-half-year period followed in which Robertson

rebuilt the agency’s fortunes with a stream of new business. During this

time it was associated with notable work for the likes of BMW, the

Prudential and Carling Black Label, but was also famed for being riven

with internal politics and run on a relative shoestring.



When towards the end of his tenure major accounts such as Thomson

Holidays and the Prudential quit the agency only to be replaced with the

likes of Iceland and Bernard Matthews, private muttering about a

personal contract linked to the amount of new business won became

public.



While the timing of his exit for AMV in 1995 may still rankle with some,

this criticism underestimates the scale of the achievement during that

period and the professional risk involved in taking the job in the first

place.



WCRS was in big trouble in 1990: clients were leaving (19 in the

previous year), revenues falling and costs soaring. Perhaps worst of all

the staff turnover was an appalling 56 per cent in one year. The new

’nice-guy’ boss had to begin by making 32 people redundant. Small wonder

there has been a little griping since.



Both Wight and Baulk remained in no doubts as to his talents,

however.



Wight was uncharacteristically crestfallen when Robertson first informed

him of his plans to leave, although he recovered to ask Campaign:

’Aren’t you going to congratulate me on becoming chief executive?’



Meanwhile Baulk had worked assiduously on manoeuvring himself and AMV

into a position where he could claim to no longer be able to hold down

both the chief executive and managing director roles, and to need a

younger foil; someone who would in time succeed him at the agency, as he

took on more of a group level role.



Baulk created the role for Robertson. This is both a huge tribute to the

latter and - to a lesser degree - a millstone. He has to prove himself

all over again, and he has done so, particularly through his involvement

in AMV’s spectacular new-business gains of the past two years.



Robertson should ask his new creative director and former WCRS

colleague, Peter Souter, about millstones. Try filling the shoes of the

most feted and universally respected creative director in Britain and,

arguably, the world.



What’s more, try doing so at a time when the creative department has won

more awards than ever, and is staffed by many people with more

experience and gongs than you.



Souter also suffers from the clone tag, and it will be harder for him to

shrug it off, because any changes he may introduce must surely be

gradual.



Why change the most winning of formulas? It will be difficult enough for

him to try to tell Abbott, now an active copywriter, that his work is

not up to scratch.



Souter will have said yes to the job with a big gulp, but let’s be

honest, it’s a dream appointment. His problems lie in retaining top

talent, maintaining high standards and building on success. He also has

the new-business momentum of the agency behind him as he strives to make

his own mark in a job that he was marked out for two years ago when

Abbott surprised a few people by making him deputy creative

director.



They shouldn’t have been. It’s been coming ever since he arrived to fill

a vacancy created by the only other person the agency thought would get

the job, Robert Campbell. When Campbell and his partner, Mark Roalfe,

quit AMV in 1991 for their short-lived Banks Partnership venture, it was

Souter and Paul Brazier who replaced them, fresh from their mammoth

Frank ’n’ Stein electricity privatisation campaign for WCRS.



Picking up Abbott’s mantle on the Economist and, for a while, Volvo, the

duo also took over from Campbell and Roalfe on the RSPCA. They have

since made their mark with work ranging from the Delta Air Lines

’synchronised flying’ commercial, to Pizza Hut and Sainsbury’s.



Like Abbott and his partner, Ron Brown, they began specialising on some

of the agency’s more troublesome briefs, turning them into

opportunities.



No surprise then that Souter, like Robertson, comes across as an old

head on young shoulders, such is his experience of major clients.



The agency will be hoping that Robertson and Souter develop the same

publicly recognisable rapport that Abbott and Mead and Abbott and Baulk

enjoyed before them. It would be surprising if this is not the case -

after all, they’ve worked together before, and are both imbued with the

values of their predecessors.



AMV has effected succession management in a manner that must be the envy

of most of its significant rivals in town. It would be ridiculous to

suggest that it has been glitch-free, but it’s been as near as anyone

else has got to it.



In their attempt to assert themselves, much now depends on the two

thirtysomethings’ freedom to manage. In Souter’s case, Abbott’s

intentions are clear, but Baulk for now remains very much in charge of

the agency. Wily fox that he is, he won’t mind Robertson taking flak for

him.



So when, in trademark fashion, he yanks his sleevecuffs down to let his

cuff-links free of his jacket sleeves, and bounces into Abbott Mead’s

20th birthday party, Michael Baulk can be forgiven for thinking that

he’s got the agency’s future sorted.



He also knows that if it all goes horribly wrong he has innumerable

other strings to his bow - some of them business ventures with the likes

of Robertson. Baulk, like AMV’s founders, is a winner. His great

achievement has been to instil the culture of winning into Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO.



It’s his biggest gift to Robertson and Souter.



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