The appointment of Paul Hammersley as the new chief executive in February was a start, though his arrival was met with a tangible cynicism about the willingness of the agency's senior management to welcome a new impetus.
So perhaps it's not surprising that the changes unveiled last week are very much about building on what made BMP great, rather than a radical new vision for the agency's future. Hammersley's plans are couched in the sort of reverence for the agency's heritage that should play well with long-servers, clients and anyone with an appreciation of DDB's UK glory days.
Hammersley has put strategy at the centre of his plans - using the agency's history for inspiration - and hired the US big gun David Hackworthy to head the efforts.
The plan is a smart one, if unoriginal. Rather than a total rebrand, Hammersley wants to modernise the agency by building on and updating its famous planning heritage. The aim is to widen the agency's output, providing clients with direct marketing and media solutions alongside its traditional TV and press advertising.
"It's not that there's a planning problem at DDB," Hammersley says. "It was just not as prepared for the future as it should be."
In its glory days, BMP DDB was seen as the home of planning, with the P in BMP, Stanley Pollitt, billed as the joint creator of the discipline (along with J. Walter Thompson's Stephen King).
Pollitt's decision to put the consumer at the heart of the advertising process caught on at DDB and it developed the first "account planning" department.
The agency's success in the discipline is marked by the number of IPA Effectiveness Awards it has won. It is the IPA Effectiveness agency of the year, a title it has secured twice in a row.
However, as the industry has become more about broad strategic communications, DDB has been one of the last to update its offering. As Kevin Dundas, the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, says: "Consumers need a bigger canvas now. What DDB is doing is nothing new; it's what everyone has been, or should be, doing."
Certainly, DDB has not been at the forefront of planning developments, something one source suggests could have contributed to the agency's decline in recent years. So long the second-biggest agency in the country after Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, DDB London now languishes in 14th position, having suffered a string of high-profile domestic account losses.
Dragging DDB into the new era is going to be a huge task, but Hammersley is confident about handing the reins to his friend, Hackworthy.
The pair met in late 2002 when they were both working in New York and have almost worked together on various occasions since. Hammersley tried to hire him when he headed Lowe in New York and he admits that if he had got a New York start-up off the ground, Hackworthy would have been one of his partners.
Billed as highly ambitious, Hackworthy explains his main reason for the move is the enormous challenge that awaits him at DDB. "My motto has always been to bite off as much as you can chew and keep chewing, and to take on planning at the heart of planning is the biggest bite of all," he says.
But is Hackworthy up to the task ahead?
The 40-year-old Australian has the right credentials and has straddled various disciplines throughout his career. Having trained in law and marketing, he dabbled as a client at both Procter & Gamble and Virgin before switching to the agency side 12 years ago. During the past five years, he has worked at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York, latterly as the chief strategy officer.
His New York contemporaries certainly think he's capable of the London job. Carl Johnson, the former chief executive of TBWA\Worldwide and the founder of the start-up Anomaly, says: "David's good at looking at the big picture and identifying big thoughts for brands. I'm sure he will raise the sights of planning at DDB."
Emma Cookson, Bartle Bogle Hegarty's global head of planning, agrees.
"His experience in the US will be very useful. He has worked with big, multifaceted brands and is really good at identifying business solutions. He will bring credible energy to the agency," she says.
A typical Australian outdoorsy type, Hackworthy is also described as incredibly professionally competitive and "passionate, bordering on obsessive".
"He hasn't got an off switch," Cookson says. This is confirmed by Johnson's assertion that Hackworthy is: "Very hands on and did all of the significant planning at TBWA."
At DDB, he'll be heading a department of 30 people, and ceding day-to-day hands-on control is likely to be Hackworthy's first, personal challenge.
However, he shrugs off the issue, saying: "I'm not afraid to be hands on and it is an advantage, but I've worked on 45 pitches in five years and my hands are tired now."
Hackworthy is confident that he's ready for DDB and believes he can make a difference to the agency. "I have learned different skills from the US market. Advertising is more business-led in the US and you get deeply involved with a brand," he says.
It's not just planning that Hackworthy's going to be influencing: various former colleagues highlight his new-business credentials. "He really commands the room with his vision for brands. He's a fantastic presenter and inspirational speaker," Johnson says.
Hackworthy has a wide remit at DDB. As well as being responsible for the agency's traditional planning (the head of account planning, Lucy Jameson, will report to him), he will oversee the new alliances DDB has forged with two network-aligned agencies, OMD Group UK and WWAV Rapp Collins.
The media tie-up, with DDB working with the Manning Gott-lieb OMD affiliate Good Stuff, will involve a review of DDB's media strategy and communications.
The WWAV relationship will see WWAV's client services director, Jon Goulding, working in the agency as its director of relationship marketing. Goulding will introduce the direct marketing discipline alongside the agency's traditional advertising solutions.
"Hammersley has done the right thing but there is a concern that it has happened five years too late," Nigel Jones, the chief executive of Claydon Heeley Jones Mason and a former head of planning at DDB, says. "However, on the positive, DDB is the agency that takes planning most seriously and has the most support and investment for it. Even though the changes are late, I wouldn't be surprised if it provided the most original, effective and best offer," he adds.
Hammersley's plan and the Hackworthy appointment seem to be setting the agency on the right course, but it is not enough for DDB to stop here.
Hackworthy seems well aware of this and is clearly looking to make a big impact. "I'm interested to find the core values to differentiate DDB in the marketplace and want to do something that will have an influence on the global network," he asserts. Change, it seems, has arrived.
Lives: New York
Family: Wife, Gabriele
Favourite ad: VW's "surprisingly ordinary prices" campaign
Describe yourself in three words: Talks too much
Most treasured possession: My snowboard
Greatest extravagance: My wife's wardrobe (she works in fashion)
Living person you most admire: Terrence Malick (the director of Badlands
and Days of Heaven)
One to watch: Anomaly (NYC start-up)
Motto: Bite off as much as you can and keep chewing