Campaign Supplement on BMP DDB 1968-1998: The BMP launch - Martin Boase recalls the story behind the launch of BMP while industry luminaries reminisce about the impact of the agency

In December 1967, Interpublic, the largest advertising group in the world, was near bankruptcy. Fearful of being sold, the board of Pritchard Wood, one of its London agencies, offered to buy itself out. Top management in New York urged patience: ’Don’t do anything precipitate - you could put 8,000 families on the street.’ But on one Thursday in May 1968, it was a surprise when Bob Healey, president of IPG, appeared in London and agreed to sell.

In December 1967, Interpublic, the largest advertising group in the

world, was near bankruptcy. Fearful of being sold, the board of

Pritchard Wood, one of its London agencies, offered to buy itself out.

Top management in New York urged patience: ’Don’t do anything

precipitate - you could put 8,000 families on the street.’ But on one

Thursday in May 1968, it was a surprise when Bob Healey, president of

IPG, appeared in London and agreed to sell.



Negotiations were to start in London on Saturday two days later, but as

our orthodox Jewish adviser could not work on the Sabbath, the meeting

was postponed until Monday in New York. I flew over with an entourage

only to find that Interpublic was no longer selling. The reason? It had

found the finance over the weekend to keep the corporation afloat.



Those were the almost whimsical circumstances that led to the formation

of Boase Massimi Pollitt, rather than the buyout of Pritchard Wood.



Recognising before anybody else what has now become axiomatic (Saatchi &

Saatchi was still two years away), the race was on to get back to London

and hit the papers. We got there first and a kind and able journalist

called Gwen Nuttall wrote half a page in the Sunday Times on ’the

biggest breakaway in advertising history - on either side of the

Atlantic’. Still true - ten directors from one agency leaving to set up

on their own.



Pritchard Wood, where we all came from, was a British agency, formed in

the 30s. In 1960 it sold out to Interpublic because it didn’t think it

could survive without an international connection.



It was around the top ten with some important accounts. By 1968, thanks

to the importation from the US of the creative director, Gabe Massimi,

it had begun to produce distinctive work. At the same time, Stanley

Pollitt was already developing the germs of the account planning idea to

ensure that this bright new work was rooted in relevance.



After a brief and uncomfortable few weeks in our Jewish adviser’s office

in Manchester Square, we took space on the corner of Goodge Street and

Tottenham Court Road over the Golden Egg cafe. The floor below us was

occupied by David Puttnam, late of CDP. He represented various

photographers, such as David Bailey and David Montgomery.



On the top floor was the designer, Michael Peters, with his partner, Lou

Klein; they designed our corporate paperwork. And on the floor above us

were Charlie Saatchi, Ross Cramer and John Hegarty, freelance creatives

whom we were too proud to employ even when we hadn’t cracked a creative

problem.



We were determined to make even more noise. So after endless persuasion,

we managed to get a former Cabinet minister, Ernest Marples, to become

chairman. Now long dead, and forgotten by many, he was a fairly

notorious and popular figure of the day. He was a successful businessman

who became a top politician, introducing the country to motorways,

parking meters and premium bonds. His appointment featured on the main

BBC news and the electronic ticker tape in Piccadilly Circus.



General noise about BMP continued; we even insisted that all company

Minis (no longer the grander cars of the Pritchard Wood days) were

chocolate brown and carried the agency name.



We had expected at least some business to follow us from Pritchard

Wood.



None did, with the crucial exception of Cadbury, who gave us several

brands including Smash instant potato, which eventually became our

imprimatur with some great television advertising.



This was crucial. Packaged goods were the home of big budgets and

advertising sophistication. The arrival of Cadbury allowed us to claim

that we were ’a big agency in everything but size’. Thankfully, other

accounts followed fairly rapidly in order to occupy the many hands

already on the payroll.



With so many chiefs, the structure of the agency inevitably involved a

pretty shallow hierarchy. But, with all of us putting in borrowed money,

ownership was widely spread.



From our previous existence we took a fully formed concept. This was the

notion of combining a commitment to distinctive advertising,

underwritten by a guarantee of relevance - the beginning of the account

planning idea.



Our obsession with this point of view, this idea, meant the fundamental

satisfaction of those that work at BMP has always been to get the

advertising right.



At the risk of sounding pious, winning business, keeping accounts and

turning a decent profit have always taken second place to this

professional urge. Thirty years is a long time to stay at the top of

both the creative awards and new-business pitch-lists, but I suspect it

has something to do with that initial BMP idea.





TOP TEN AGENCIES IN 1968 BY BILLINGS

1    J. Walter Thompson               pounds 20.2m

2    Masius Wynne-Williams            pounds 18.8m

3    Ogilvy & Mather                  pounds 12.5m

4    Young & Rubicam                  pounds 10.4m

5    S. H. Benson                      pounds 9.8m

6    Hobson Bates                      pounds 9.5m

7    London Press Exchange             pounds 8.7m

8    Lintas                            pounds 8.7m

9    Dorland                           pounds 7.1m

10   Erwin Wasey/PWP                   pounds 6.5m



MIKE GREENLEES



It was not too long after the launch of Boase Massimi Pollitt that a

headhunter sidled up to Mike Greenlees and asked if he’d ever thought of

going into advertising. Then enjoying life as the group brand manager of

cigars at Imperial Tobacco, Greenlees confessed he hadn’t given much

consideration to a leap over the fence to the agency side.



However, he decided to ask for more information. The headhunter

mentioned an agency name: BMP. This rang only a faint bell. Then he

mentioned an ad campaign - BMP’s famous ’serious rival’ work for

Cadbury’s Smash - and Greenlees began to take an avid interest. And so a

few weeks later, Greenlees hooked up to the BMP phenomenon.



In the very early days, he says, BMP was not so much viewed as a new

phenomenon but as ’a gang of guys who broke away from Pritchard

Wood’.



It was only after ’serious rival’ and its sequel featuring the famous

Smash Martians broke that the wider industry realised it had a genuine

new competitor on its hands.



Greenlees stayed at BMP for three years. They were eventful and fun

years he says, in which rule-breaking was the order of the day: ’It was

like working in an advertising kibbutz. People were really passionate.

It was heady and exciting. Ideas were the hero.



’There was this inspired marriage between extraordinary creative talent

and a strong intellectual foundation, and it worked really well.’



Greenlees is not surprised that BMP is as successful and innovative

today as it was at the beginning. ’One of the things that made it clear

it would be a long-term success,’ he says, ’was that it had a very

strong culture and a very strong sense of its own self worth.’



Mike Greenlees is now president and chief executive of TBWA

Worldwide



JOHN BARTLE



It was 1968, and John Bartle, a junior marketing services manager at

Cadbury Schweppes food group, was in a very boring meeting. Not that he

didn’t like the guy he was with - Peter Jones from Pritchard Wood - but

not much was happening.



Then the phone rang for Jones. It was to tell him that the long-awaited

deal was on. He and his colleagues were finally breaking away to form

their own agency, Boase Massimi Pollitt.



’I was surprised,’ says Bartle, ’as it was the first I’d heard of it,

but pleased for Peter. We stopped the meeting, and went down the pub to

toast his success.’ A few days later, Bartle’s boss, the Cadbury

marketing director, John Harvey, called Bartle to his office.



’Stanley (Pollitt) was there,’ Bartle recalls, ’and he said these guys

were starting their own agency, and ’should we give them our business?’

I could hardly say no with Stanley sitting there, not that I would

have.



Everyone knew that they had been producing the best work of all our

agencies, and all of them had gone to BMP.’



And so, only days after opening, the fledgling BMP had its first, rather

prestigious, client in Cadbury.



’I believe that Pritchard Wood flew in some people from the US to try to

persuade us not to move but, in this case, the good guys won,’ Bartle

says.



’With such a big-name client to begin with and the best people in the

business, they were always going to do well. But Stanley was a very

modest man, and he would have been surprised at the success of the

agency now.



He was not in the highest order of sartorial elegance, but he was the

brightest there was. He would be very proud of this agency today.’



John Bartle is now joint chief executive of Bartle Bogle Hegarty



JEREMY BULLMORE



Jeremy Bullmore was running the creative department of London’s biggest

agency, J. Walter Thompson, when news first broke of the launch of

BMP.



’It didn’t make much of a song and dance of it,’ he recalls. ’It didn’t

come out with the usual patter. You know: ’we’re the first agency ever

to do this; we’ve broken the mould.’ Yet we recognised BMP as a proper

agency from the beginning. It was thoughtful and inventive right from

the start.’



Bullmore, of course, knew more about BMP’s secret weapon - the new

discipline of account planning - than most others in the industry at the

time.



JWT’s Stephen King had separately come up with an almost identical

concept, and they were implementing this together at JWT. So Bullmore

and King watched with particular interest as the fledgling BMP began to

flourish from its fairly low-key beginnings.



’It wasn’t as though the three hottest names in London had got

together,’ Bullmore remembers.



’Martin (Boase) was a humble account man, and Stanley (Pollitt) was

known as good in research circles but otherwise he was low profile. Only

(creative director) Gabe Massimi was relatively well-known. All the

same, the little one knew about the individuals told you it would be a

thoughtful place.’



That description holds true today, says Bullmore, who believes BMP has

been true to itself since it launched 30 years ago. He still admires the

fusion of intelligence with creativity BMP uses in its brand strategy

and advertising.



’There are advertising agencies and advertisement agencies,’ Bullmore

says. ’It was obvious from day one that BMP was an advertising

agency.’



Jeremy Bullmore is now a non-executive director of WPP.



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