EDITORIAL: Powell's successor has awesome task

Of course it had to happen one day. Yet it's hard to imagine BMP DDB without Chris Powell as its chairman or an ad industry in which he isn't playing a prominent role.

Highly intelligent and passionate about advertising, Powell has never attempted to flaunt his intellect or belittle others with it. Indeed, although not one of BMP's founding partners, it almost seems as though he were, the agency having long been an extension of his cerebral style.

Powell's impending withdrawal from a front-line role seems to have provoked a period of soul-searching by the agency. And not before time. The loyalty and dedication of its long-serving senior management, which has always provided stability and continuity, is now in danger of stifling innovation. That's not to say BMP should break completely with its past. From its founding as the first of the "second wave" agencies in 1968, it has long been one of the industry's finest ads for itself.

It's little wonder BMP built a reputation as the agency everyone wanted to join but few wanted to leave. With creative, account handling and planning strengths all equally outstanding, BMP has well merited its description as the "agencies' agency".

The acquisition of BMP in 1989 was DDB's first tentative step into the global expansion it was necessary to make if the network was to survive among the big boys. The acquisition served as a model of DDB's strategy of attracting the most creative local brands and combining them with a strong global brand. Now, more than a decade later, the corporate climate is more harsh and growth is proving elusive but the enduring values of what BMP brought to the DDB party remain - good management, good creative and good planning. It is thanks in a large part to Chris Powell that BMP has managed to fit in with its parent without losing its strong local culture.

Public chest-beating has never been Powell's or BMP's style but its combination of the best of the American creative revolution, whose most eloquent standard-bearer was Bill Bernbach, with the best of the subsequent flowering of British advertising has proved a formidable platform to take on the world.

But will it endure? The trouble is that the demands of much of the client community have moved on. A well-deserved acclaim for intelligent creativity is now most appealing to particular types of clients of a certain age.

Past glories won't count for much amid today's clamour for populist, cut-through work by thirtysomething marketing directors. It's a formidable, but far from impossible, task that Powell's successor faces.


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