Feature

BMB enjoys a year of exceeding expectations

It might not be the non-traditional shop promised at launch, but BMB still has a winning formula, James Hamilton reports.

One year ago last week, Trevor Beattie, Andrew McGuinness and Bil Bungay had just finished working on the advertising campaign that eased Labour to its landmark third general election win. The morning after, the trio promptly resigned from TBWA\London to launch their eponymous agency.

Today, Beattie McGuinness Bungay's fortunes are very much on the rise; the same cannot be said for Labour after its drubbing in the local council elections.

The ambiguity and rumour surrounding the trio's departure from Whitfield Street (had they planned it? Were they pushed, caught tapping up potential clients?) seem mostly redundant now. By whatever yardstick you use to measure success, BMB is in rude health.

The agency now has a client list in the double figures, 45 staff and has just taken over a second floor of its Covent Garden home. And if the size of the boardroom table around which Beattie, McGuinness, Bungay and the fourth partner, David Bain, contemplate one year as their own bosses is anything to go by, the plan is to keep growing. There are a lot of empty seats.

The company is, McGuinness admits, around where they hoped it would be after three years. "Even in our wildest dreams, we didn't think we'd be here now," he says. "We'd have been happy to have had a couple of clients after our first year and maybe add a couple a year after that," Beattie adds.

To the casual observer, BMB's progress has been smooth to the point of being oiled. On the whole, clients have approached them and, if they have had any of the typical teething problems associated with start-ups along the way, they are not divulging them. Beattie says he cannot think of any, while McGuinness offers a tale about struggling with printing up boards for their first pitch - pretty weak as minor start-up tragedies go. Bungay says nothing and stays silent for the remainder of the interview.

So far, BMB has won ten clients - 11 if you count Emap's Zoo, which the agency resigned in order to continue working with Richard Desmond on what McGuinness describes as "intellectual property" projects. Which wins stand out as BMB's proudest achievements?

"Winning Carling was an extraordinary moment," Beattie says, describing how a four-pack of Carling and an envelope were delivered to his desk.

"I thought it was another goodwill message from a mate; I opened it and there was a card with our endline and 'welcome aboard'."

Even more impressive, he says, was the attitude of the incumbent on Carling, The Leith Agency, to the win. The agency stopped by BMB's local with six crates of Carling and a bottle of Champagne to say well done. "You remember people like that," Beattie says. "It's one thing winning an account from an Ogilvy & Mather or a JWT, but to win one from Leith and to know how much it will affect it ..."

That French Connection would follow the trio out of TBWA was no surprise. That quite so many clients - and not the normal start-up challenger brand fodder, but market leaders-would align their business with BMB is altogether more impressive. Carling, Heinz and First Choice are big brands any agency would be pleased to call clients, although one industry insider does sound a cautionary note.

"BMB is starting to look like a creative hotshop for classic brands such as beer, soft drinks and food. It really needs to win a service brand or a major retailer," he says, drawing a parallel with their old home.

"That's the problem TBWA has always had: it is good at the image work, but it has struggled with service brands such as Abbey and News Group."

Nevertheless, BMB has its fair share of fans. Martin Jones, the director of advertising at the AAR, believes the agency has all the successful elements of a good start-up - talent, desire and team spirit - but he suggests a string of wins in the first year is not necessarily an indication of what is to come.

"For the first 18 months, start-ups have a newness which makes them interesting. The proof comes in the next 18 months; when they're not the new kid on the block and there are no prior relationships," he says.

Andy Laurillard, the head of marketing at First Choice, echoes Jones' sentiments when he explains his reasons for appointing BMB. Despite operating out of borrowed office space and with next to no infrastructure, its enthusiasm convinced him he wanted it to pitch.

"Our business needs an agency that's going to be able to work in a flexible, collaborative way. I wanted the new Mother and I think I've found it. BMB is the hottest agency in town, a dream team," he says.

Like many start-ups, BMB has had to endure its fair share of naysayers.

When it launched, there were those in adland who questioned Beattie's commitment to an agency - at the time, he had just launched his first West End show. Then there were the trio's claims that BMB would be far more than a traditional agency and would work with a range of clients across stage and screen as well as the more traditional press and poster.

BMB is, McGuinness says, "absolutely and proudly an advertising agency".

While he is neither playing down the cries of media neutrality nor the pride with which he and his co-founders wore the colours of content-creation, the claim is fast looking hollow. BMB's reel is resolutely advertising; its clients predominantly traditional in their approach to marketing.

Have the founders rethought their mission statement?

"You're absolutely nothing without your clients," Beattie counters. "We're going to get the biggest clients we can, but who are interested in working with us in a different way. If we can - and we will and we are - get clients the calibre of Carling and First Choice to do extraordinary things, we're in business. If you get a two-bit company to do it, you have not really achieved anything," he adds.

But what, exactly, are these "extraordinary" things? So far, BMB has created a TV campaign and the I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! First Choice sponsorship idents; TV and print work for Heinz and an Advertising Standards Authority-baiting French Connection spot.

"It was the most-talked about TV commercial of the year so far and it only appeared six times," Beattie replies. "It's a double-edged sword for me: when work doesn't appear in traditional media, people are saying 'are you still working, lads?', and when it does, people say 'oh, that's just a traditional television ad'." He argues that the industry hasn't come to terms with what BMB does for Westfield, the shopping-centre development in White City, which, Beattie says, is one of the agency's biggest-billing clients.

Ultimately, though, Beattie, McGuinness, Bungay and Bain are relishing the independent life and dismiss the myth that start-ups are all work and no play. "We've only worked three Sundays all year," Beattie says.

"They were all before big pitches and we won all three."

Nor, he says, are the four partners in it simply to sell up and make a quick fortune: "It sounds like a cliche, but when you're coming to work and enjoying it, why would you look for an out?"

- Leader, page 26

SO DO THEY JUST MAKE ADS?

Heinz: TV and print campaigns for Heinz Tomato Ketchup and HP Sauce. Work on Lea & Perrins has included the development of on-pack designs, in-store materials and direct mail door-drops.

First Choice: The holiday company's most high-profile work is a TV spot starring 5,000 children. BMB also created sponsorship idents for I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!.

French Connection: Produced the controversial "fashion vs style" TV commercial earlier this year, marrying high-street style, kung fu action and homoerotica.

Westfield: Work for the West London shopping centre includes developing brand and corporate identity, advising on signage and interiors, and naming zones within the development and the new Tube station that will serve it.

Northern & Shell: Behind the US launch of OK! and has since sold intellectual property for both business and communications ideas across a number of titles.

Kirieshki: Provided intellectual property ideas to Russia's leading snack company.

Carling: Working on all communications for this summer's music festivals.

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