For Alexandre Gama, this year’s event was particularly memorable in that it marked his first as the worldwide chief creative officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, having slipped into Sir John Hegarty’s loafers in July last year. Physically, those shoes were not large (Hegarty is not a big man) but, metaphorically, they are massive – it’s easy to conclude that the risk of stumbling in his footsteps is so enormous that few would wish to attempt to follow.
But Gama, an easygoing Brazilian, is not fazed by the weight of his inheritance and the expectation that comes with all that his job title demands. Wags might flippantly observe that his physical appearance – which closely resembles John Bartle, albeit with a mahogany tan and a South American accent – might in some way be talismanic. However, the true size of his legacy is emphasised by the fact that recent events mean that BBH now has twice as many knights on its books than all of WPP put together.
Of course, an admiration of BBH and all that it has achieved is (quite rightly) almost an article of faith for anyone in global advertising, but its path has not always been an entirely smooth one. While the UK office went through its own sticky patch in 2008, from which it emerged stronger and better, the US agency has not been the success story that many had hoped it would be. The worst of these headwinds seem to have blown over and the shop appears to be on the road to recovery, but it reveals perhaps that the cult of an agency name is not always enough to guarantee immediate success.
Hegarty is an irreplaceable piece of ad history, and Gama must be judged against a different measuring stick
For Gama, then, the shackles of the past are perhaps not as restrictive as many would first think – quoting Oscar Wilde, he says: "Be yourself, everyone else is taken anyway" – and his vision is one that eschews a top-down, blueprint approach that larger networks usually impose in favour of one that has seven distinct agencies, all of which have shared values and are badged BBH.
Hegarty is an irreplaceable piece of advertising history, and Gama must be judged against an entirely different measuring stick. Unburdened by this legacy, he says he has taken over Hegarty’s role but not his achievements. This pragmatic approach to cherish the past without necessarily being a slave to it seems, in typical BBH fashion, the entirely appropriate route for continued success.