Editorial: Lowe decline serves as a lesson for BMB and Cheil

Taken together, Beattie McGuinness Bungay and Lowe London epitomise the contrasting fortunes of the UK agency scene during a year rapidly drawing to a close.

Having seen its takeover by Omnicom collapse at the 11th hour, BMB has fallen into the arms of South Korea's Cheil Communications. This looks a shrewd move for both parties. For Cheil, BMB's capture sends out a powerful signal of its intention to be taken seriously as a global player.

Boasting a high-quality management line-up, BMB has proved to be one of the most successful start-ups in recent years. Not only has it topped the new-business rankings throughout 2008, but continues to produce respectable creative work for big-name clients. And in Trevor Beattie, Cheil has one of the UK's most high-profile creatives.

Meanwhile, the deal links BMB to an ambitious network that wants to shed its anonymity. With a powerful client in Samsung to sustain it, Cheil clearly isn't lacking funds. And with the economy in its current state, the time could hardly be better for it to be hitting the acquisition trail.

Doubtless, the optimism levels were equally high in 1990 when Sir Frank Lowe sold his agency to Interpublic.

This, too, looked like a good piece of business. The all-powerful IPG had laid down the template for the communications holding company. In Lowe Howard-Spink, it acquired an agency obsessed with the quality of its creative work, even if it was never going to be a comfortable fit with IPG's other marketing services companies.

Fast-forward to the present day and the contrast could not be more stark. Nobody could have anticipated the sorry spectacle that Lowe London has now become. Indeed, it's tragic to watch a once fine agency turning into a shadow of its former self, having been seriously damaged by internal strife and decimated by huge account losses.

Great agencies such as Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Bartle Bogle Hegarty thrive because of the stable way they are led. Lowe London serves as a warning about what happens when such leadership is conspicuously absent.

Topics