Like a road runner puffing to keep up with the leaders of the pack,
the Bates network is looking increasingly like it will not cross the
finishing tape without some help. Try as it might, the chances of it
joining the elite club of players which dominate the global
communications scene without joining forces with one of them look
Sadly, Bates has always looked like an also-ran. For so long
overshadowed by its sexier Saatchi & Saatchi sister, it has never given
the appearance of a robust standalone operation since the break-up of
the family at the end of 1997.
It boasts no world-renowned names. Moreover, unlike its major rivals, it
has never been able to transform its flagship New York office, still
suffering the legacy of earlier culture clashes and a lack of management
stability, into an effective conduit for US-based multinational
Since the catastrophic loss of pounds 270 million worth of Mars business
three years ago, British American Tobacco is the only international
business cementing the network together.
True, BAT’s merger with Rothmans could mean extra business for Bates
Dorland in London. But as the world closes in on tobacco advertisers,
BAT is not an alluring long-term prospect.
Instead, Bates has had to content itself with the uphill and frustrating
task of growing multinational business out of regional assignments
Also, as Michael Bungey, the Bates chairman rightly pointed out at the
time of the group’s demerger, no more than two or three major
international clients a year put their business up for pitch. And when
they do, it’s usually because of consolidation.
With no major global realignments in prospect and doubts about whether
Bates will deliver on its post-demerger performance promises, the
network has few options. To do nothing would be to consign itself to a
perpetually fruitless challenge to the front runners while the back
markers snap at its heels.