It seems everyone was caught looking west when Bartle Bogle Hegarty
revealed it was to go east (Campaign, last week). It is typical of an
agency brand, built up consistently during its 14-year history, that it
should so markedly do its own thing; but almost as interesting were the
rumours put about by everyone else.
Our favourite was that John Bartle was leaving to manage Leeds United.
Others involved one very old and one middle-aged chestnut. The old
gossip is that BBH would do a deal with a US multinational, either
selling a minority stake a la Abbott Mead Vickers and BBDO, or reversing
into a struggling agency as with Still Price and Lintas. The more recent
speculation centred on the possibility that BBH would follow Leagas
Delaney and set up in either San Francisco or New York, primarily with a
view to seeking the Levi’s business in the US. This remains a
BBH’s decision to go east is pregnant with potential and pitfalls alike.
The worst the agency could do is go in and compete with the
multinationals that have been there a decade. They are there because of
the time-honoured tradition that Procter and Gamble and Unilever want
them to be there. They run P&G-esque ads in the region and then pick up
a local restaurant to ‘do something creative’ - which means entering it
The top agency lists in Hong Kong, China and Singapore are dominated by
Saatchi and Saatchi, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy and Mather, but there
is an exception. Batey Advertising tops the Singapore list with its own
brand of stylish advertising. In the booming Asian marketplace, there is
a niche for such agencies. As Nigel Bogle said, this would appear to
offer opportunities for the type of high-added-value brands on BBH’s
client list. If the second wave of British agency expansion overseas is
not obsessed with being the biggest, but the best, it surely has more
chance of succeeding than the first.