Claire Beale: History suggests DDB can be revived by A&E

By Claire Beale, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 24 May 2012 08:00AM

Right back in January, when the main topic over the drinks table was what 2012 had in store, one agency chief executive predicted that this would be the year Adam & Eve sold out.

Claire Beale: History suggests DDB can be revived by A&E

I scoffed. Why go through the agonies and ecstasies of starting your own business just to go back to working for someone else within five years (even if it's with the odd £20 million in your back pocket)?

What do I know? By March, our phone lines were buzzing with rumours of an Adam & Eve sale to Omnicom and, suddenly, it seemed not only inevitable but right.

Adam & Eve was increasingly clear that it did not want to get stuck in advertising's middle ground, not big enough to satisfy the energies and ambitions of its founders. And perhaps the agency's stock had reached its highest point. How many more times can John Lewis move us? And could the agency ever top its magnificent run of creative and new-business successes? Would it ever match the breadth and depth of an Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO or a Bartle Bogle Hegarty? Perhaps. But not any time soon and not without a lot more expensive resource and international clout.

As for DDB UK, with a thinning management team, no executive creative director, the loss of Virgin Media and Philips, a pretty patchy new-business record, and a creative reputation struggling to live up to past glories, something radical was vital.

When I met DDB's smooth global chief executive, Chuck Brymer, for breakfast in February, he insisted he was happy with his London management team, that the agency was still strong, that he had no concerns about performance. His arms, suddenly folded defensively across his chest, spoke louder.

By the time I wrote here in March that speculation of a merger was feverish, Stephen Woodford, DDB UK's chief executive, immediately sent round an all-staff e-mail, telling his troops: "This is simply not true. Nor are we acquiring anyone else." By then, we all thought: well, if DDB really isn't acquiring an agency, why not? It should.

That the once-mighty DDB UK needs to spend £60 million on a blood transfusion in London is perhaps shocking. But far from original, particularly for Omnicom. DDB bought the 21-year-old London hotshop BMP in 1989, paying £125 million; TBWA bought Simons Palmer in 1997 and then BDDP GGT in 1998; BBDO bought Abbott Mead Vickers in 1991. Buying and merging is what big, undynamic agencies do to reboot. With a vacancy yet again at the top of Ogilvy this week (page 8), don't rule out an acquisition there (the rest of CHI & Partners, perhaps?).

In the meantime, the combination of DDB's resources and Adam & Eve's talent and drive will be extremely exciting; I'm bored with struggling to name more than two or three really great London agencies.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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