Opinion: Perspective - BBH has shown the micro-network of the future

If you read Campaign's recent feature on the agency of the future, you'll have noticed some consistent themes emerging: the continued emphasis on local management and local understanding, even in a globalised business; the need to combine ever more sophisticated specialisms with a fully integrated approach; and, crucially, an ever greater emphasis on the one big idea that resonates across borders, across media and across the sales/entertainment divide.

It could all be a blueprint for the original Omo brief, in fact. Unilever was always looking for a big idea to activate its brilliant (Lowe-originated) Dirt Is Good strategy and wanted a single vision to drive it around the world.

That it should find this vision within a small agency network, tightly honed to deliver great big, fat ideas without all the baggage of several hundred offices and thousands of employees, should really come as no surprise these days. The micro-network is where the fashionable money is and that's in no small part down to the success of the Bartle Bogle Hegarty model.

BBH won the pitch not simply because it's one of the world's leading creative agency brands, but because its model is designed to allow that creativity (of thinking and execution) the best possible springboard.

Of course, big ideas aren't the preserve of the micro-network or the local hotshop. But it's sure as hell easier to get to the essence of the great (globally actionable) idea, to allow it to live and breathe free from bureaucracy and politics, in a smaller, nimbler agency set-up. As Keith Weed, Unilever's group vice-president for global homecare, said last week: "BBH offered the greatest strategic insight, creativity and vision for the future of the brand."

Think about it. All the resources that the big holding companies boast as vital to the communications process, and a small company with fewer than 700 employees around the world can apparently deliver a better vision to one of the world's largest advertisers.

No doubt about it, personal chemistry and the sheer fact that BBH is "in favour" with Unilever at the moment played a part in the decision.

But there's also no doubt that this pitch was conducted with real rigour and thoroughness and no-one would question BBH's ability to deliver. As M&C Saatchi's Nick Hurrell said about the BA pitch last week: "If you're going to lose a pitch, there's few better agencies to lose to." Or, as one Lowe insider reckoned this week: "Well, BBH is the best creative agency in the world."

For the UK incumbent, JWT, the Omo decision is a very bitter blow that caps a disappointing run for the agency. For Lowe, though, there is some comfort - such as it is - in keeping creative and executional responsibility for Omo in Asia, parts of Latin America and a handful of other territories, thanks in no small part to the relationship between Lowe's Fernando Vega Olmos and Unilever. But Lowe's continued involvement suggests that, even though it can offer up its sister agency, Leo Burnett, BBH isn't yet capable of handling a fully global piece of business such as Omo. The big idea is one thing, having a pan-Asian footprint is another.

Consider, too, that between 2002 and 2005, BBH's burgeoning micro-network grew its billings by a steady 40 per cent. It's taken the company just a fortnight to pile on another 40 per cent. Omo will undoubtedly stretch the BBH brand and, though the agency has no plans for a raft of new offices on the back of the Omo win, its expansion from microscopic network into true micro-network now seems inevitable.

Conversely, does Lowe still need more than 100 offices? The Omo result would suggest not. The network already has a core of "lighthouse" agencies providing international creative and strategic hubs. But surely true rationalisation down to the micro-network model has to be the way forward for the Lowe brand.

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