An AMV BBDO advertising supplement: Profile/BBDO - How BBDO opened up the world. BBDO was keen to expand into the UK. AMV wanted to get into Europe. A merger was in order. By John Tylee

The 1991 deal that brought Abbott Mead Vickers into BBDO’s worldwide family may go down as one of the neatest agency mergers ever. Its protagonists see it as a triumph of irresistible logic.

The 1991 deal that brought Abbott Mead Vickers into BBDO’s

worldwide family may go down as one of the neatest agency mergers ever.

Its protagonists see it as a triumph of irresistible logic.

Ask Allen Rosenshine, BBDO’s worldwide chairman if, six years on, it

qualifies as a textbook example of how a US network should establish

itself in the UK and he hesitates to make so extravagant an assertion.

’I don’t know if it was a model deal,’ he says. ’I do know it was

entirely consistent with the way we’ve grown our network across the


Michael Baulk, the AMV chief executive, is equally reluctant to


’They wanted what we had in the UK. We wanted what they could offer


That’s the logic of it. The heart of it is that both agencies believe in

the power of good ideas and have very compatible cultures.’

Put like that, the bridal path that agencies tread can seem deceptively

smooth. Recent advertising history suggests otherwise. From the carefree

time nearly 20 years ago when, as one agency chief remembers, ’if you

wanted to capitalise on your success you just waited for a philanthropic

Yank to get off a plane with a chequebook’, to the acquisition mania of

the mid-80s which led to so many false fits, to the recessionary period

of the early 90s when mergers were more a means to cut costs, the way is

littered with casualties.

Against that backdrop, the success of the AMV BBDO link looks even more

remarkable. Although forged at the height of recession, it was never

stigmatised as a marriage of convenience. On the contrary, it has

produced benefits for both partners. AMV’s international business

represented only 1.5 per cent of its billings before the deal. Today,

it’s 38 per cent.

For its part, BBDO, backed by its formidable Omnicom parent and with a

blue-chip client list including PepsiCo, Gillette and Apple Computer,

found in AMV not only a remedy for its UK ’achilles heel’ but a creative

engine room to drive its business across Europe.

A shared belief in great creativity is at the heart of the


It’s no accident that David Abbott, AMV’s chairman, and Rosenshine, are

copywriters. But there’s more that’s harder to define. ’We feel

comfortable with AMV,’ Rosenshine says. ’We’re on the same intellectual


Most importantly, the two parties found each other at defining moments

in their evolution. By the end of the 80s, AMV’s public listing had

primed it for growth, but its lack of access to an international network

held it back. Clients looking to push their business across borders were

disinclined to include the agency on pitch-lists.

True, AMV had an international outlet of sorts via Scali McCabe Sloves,

a US-based second-string network of Ogilvy & Mather. But SMS’s lack of

international clients meant it could have no more than a trading

relationship with its UK affiliate.

In 1990 AMV’s partners agreed they needed a credible international

partner without putting debt on their balance sheet. A takeover of SMS

faltered after failure to agree a price with its owner, WPP’s Martin

Sorrell. It proved a lucky let-off. The following year, SMS found itself

embroiled in scandal and forced to resign its dollars 40 million Volvo

business, having been discovered rigging performance ads.

BBDO, meanwhile, had expansion problems of its own. Through its policy

of buying into highly creative and well-established local shops -

Australia’s Clemenger, Spain’s Contrapunto, Germany’s Team and Holland’s

FHV among them - and weaving them into its international fabric, it had

built a quality network with a matching reputation for consistent

creative excellence.

Yet the UK, its most important market outside the US and the gateway to

Europe, refused to yield to it.

’We had a number of false starts in the UK with relationships that

didn’t work out,’ Rosenshine remembers. ’Our standalone agency was no

more successful because it wasn’t the way we’d built our business

elsewhere and it couldn’t compete for local clients.’

Enter Bruce Crawford, Omnicom’s chairman. He had just brokered a deal

giving the DDB network a UK creative catalyst in BMP.

Why not find BBDO a similar partner which would not only establish it

firmly in the UK but provide a platform for European growth?

The deal was completed within ten working days. WPP sold its holding in

AMV for pounds 7.5 million to Omnicom which, through BBDO, took a 22 per

cent stake in AMV. Speed was vital to avoid anxiety among both sets of


Quick and sensitive integration was the priority. Baulk met all 13

clients of BBDO’s London office to offer reassurance. From the merged

agency’s first day in business all BBDO staff were assigned to an AMV

client and vice versa. ’The last thing we wanted was a BBDO ghetto,’

Baulk says.

’We didn’t want BBDO people feeling they had been subsumed into a much

larger, successful agency.’

How well this has paid dividends is evidenced by those BBDO London

staffers who have flourished on a broader canvas. In particular Alfredo

Marcantonio, its former executive creative director, now co-ordinating

much of the network’s pan-European work, Tom Carty and Walter Campbell,

two of the UK’s hottest creative properties, Martin Hummel, nicknamed

’the quiet American’, who is the key link on Pepsi, and Seamus

O’Farrell, account director on the massive BT business.

The deal has also added a new dimension to AMV, allowing senior staff to

cut their teeth on international business and giving them the experience

to win more. The pan-European accounts for Dulux, Wrangler jeans, and

the International Wool Secretariat would have been no-go areas for the

agency a few years ago, while Pepsi and Pizza Hut are confident enough

to have their business across the Continent led out of AMV in


’We said we wouldn’t produce lowest common denominator international

work and our reel shows we haven’t,’ Baulk says.

He believes, too, that bedding in BBDO successfully has given him added

confidence in making acquisitions for the AMV group.

All that’s left now is for BBDO to take full control of the agency that

is the undisputed jewel in its European crown. Most outsiders had

expected it to have happened already. In fact, BBDO’s stake has

increased only modestly from 22 to 26 per cent. ’There’s no question

that we would both like it to happen,’ Rosenshine says.

When it does, BBDO will need an awful lot of money.


Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content