Close-Up: Newsmaker - Behind Beattie McGuinness Bungay's launch

No-one has doubts about the talent of Trevor Beattie, but is there a market for this type of agency, James Hamilton asks.

The timing of the Beattie McGuinness Bungay resignations-cum-launch, coinciding as they did with the Labour win at the general election, is pure Trevor Beattie: spun for maximum fame and media impact. His best and longest-running campaign has always been himself, and the "Labour adman launches start-up on the day he helps Blair to historic third term" was perfect newspaper fodder.

But then, adland has never been Trevor Beattie's primary target - his stage has always faced a wider media audience. Was Beattie's timing right on this one? The best start-ups launch for good reasons - they are reactions to changes in the market or the result of over-brimming energy that can't be contained by one agency. Those that are precipitated by negative factors are more likely to fail.

While Beattie and his partner, the former TBWA\London chief executive Andrew McGuinness, were not responsible for the loss of the £22 million Abbey and the £20 million News Group accounts, it is fair to level the charge that they were at fault for being unable to come up with a convincing reason for either business to stay.

Both Beattie and McGuinness are (naturally) keen to play down any rumours they have jumped a sinking ship. TBWA is, they say, in rude health. Just look at the $90 million Etihad win. The pitch for the Abu Dhabi government airline business was led from London, McGuinness explains.

"You wouldn't do this to get away from something, you do these things because you have a personal drive to do them," he says, adding that he feels the triumvirate is leaving TBWA "on a sure footing".

That said, not even the Labour PR machine could spin the resignations into a positive story for TBWA (read for TBWA's clients). Make no mistake, the loss of Beattie and McGuinness will be one the agency will feel acutely in the coming months and all the more so this week, given its timing.

Polling day will forever be eyed with a sense of dread at TBWA from now on. Those who were at the agency four years ago will recall a similar all-agency meeting on the day of the general election, at which Simon Clemmow and Johnny Hornby announced their departure.

"I've been here a long time now and I remember similar situations when we lost Simon and Johnny," the TBWA European president and the new London chairman and chief executive, Paul Bainsfair, says. "Our record since speaks for itself - our performance is testament to our talent and resilience."

Bainsfair has acted with his customary speed and decisiveness to plug the gaping holes in his senior management. His decision to fill both the chairman's and chief executive's chairs himself is probably the best course of immediate action, although most expect an appointment to at least one of those positions in the near future.

His decision to appoint twin creative heads in the form of Danny Brooke-Taylor and Tony McTear has drawn more muted applause, and has already caused eyes and tongues to roll and wag. McTear, a PlayStation veteran, wasn't at the meeting when Beattie told the 270-odd TBWA staff he was off; he was in New York, rumoured to be job-hunting. Brooke-Taylor has only recently joined the London office from BDH\TBWA, where he was its creative director from 1998 to 2004, running accounts including Crown paint and Solvite glue.

But Manchester is a very different beast from London.

As their original employer, Beattie is naturally confident the duo will grasp his baton and run with it, albeit in their own style. "I've spent the past five years hiring the best people in London," he says. "We've got strength in depth, so you're spoilt for choice. Danny and Tony will be brilliant."

Will BMB dazzle just as well? Martin Jones, the owner of the AAR, doffs his cap to the agency's founders. "To launch a successful start-up, you need talent, a team and desire. Provided they're doing it because they want to, it will succeed," he says.

It certainly has a talent at the helm: in an industry that has seen more enfants terrible than Channel 4's Supernanny, Beattie stands alongside the Saatchis as one of only three admen the general public could name.

The desire, we're told, is there. Beattie and McGuinness are "excited" and "scared". The team? Well, it's small. So far, it's just Beattie, McGuinness and Bil Bungay. Although Beattie is thought to have approached the celebrity Chris Evans, he is said to have turned him down (although Evans might get involved on a project basis at a later stage). The producer-turned-director Matthew Vaughn, however, is reported to be working with Beattie on a project.

The names Vaughn and Evans give a hint of the direction the new operation will head in. BMB will, its founders say, be a different beast from the one they have left behind. Smaller, yes, but with a wider focus. "We want it to be an awful lot more; we want to get clients involved in a different type of branded entertainment," Beattie says. "Advertising is a simple business that has been over-complicated," McGuinness says. "If our job is to get a message to someone, why are we so fixated on TV and press? We want to use creativity to sell something, and if that means integrating a brand into a film or a TV programme, we'll do that."

But what about that other small but key element in the successful start-up model: clients? The smart money is on fcuk moving with the trio; the day after the launch, Beattie and McGuinness staged a lunch at The Ivy with Stephen Marks, the French Connection chief executive. Another hot tip is McCain. Both accounts are virtually married to Beattie and his creative vision, although Bainsfair is far more likely to sanction the former - worth slightly more than £2 million - than the latter, valued at £13 million. McGuinness says he is talking to "a couple of clients" outside the TBWA roster. One is Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's foray into space tourism.

The BMB mission statement, and Beattie's polymathematic take on the role of the creative director, embracing West End burlesque shows as passionately as six-sheet poster campaigns, means it is more likely to approach and work with clients on a project basis than go toe-to-toe with rival agencies and pitch for business.

Certainly, talk of branded content and advertiser-funded programming has reached a volume where the industry is starting both to listen and take it seriously as a business angle. No-one has really grasped the full potential yet. But if there is there a gap in the market for a new type of agency model with this embedded in its DNA, is BMB equipped to fill it?

"I don't know whether Trevor will be successful or not," the Haystack Group's Suki Thompson says. "He'll either be blindingly successful, or he'll find he doesn't like doing his own thing. I don't think you know either way until it happens." Whichever way it goes for him, Beattie is unlikely to be quiet about it.

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