In the spring of 1968, Interpublic, the first of the advertising conglomerates pre-Omnicom and WPP, got into financial difficulties. Among the London agencies it owned was the medium-sized Pritchard Wood, employing about 200 staff. I, as managing director, together with Stanley Pollitt, Gabe Massimi and others, were fearful that we might get sold to solve Interpublic’s money problem.
At a meeting with Bob Healy, president of Interpublic, on a Thursday in May, our offer to buy was accepted, with negotiations to start on the following Saturday. Our orthodox Jewish financial advisor – who had discovered the unrecognised undervaluation of our office lease in Knightsbridge that could, in part, fund our offer – refused to meet on the Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.
You could put 4,000 families on the street
A colleague and I flew to New York to meet and progress the deal on the following Monday. During the first get-together it became clear that Interpublic was no longer selling – over the weekend, it had found financial backing from Chase Manhattan. We had already determined to form a breakaway if talks failed. But it became a question of how many talented fellow spirits from Pritchard Wood might join us, how many clients might move with us and how quickly we could get back across the Atlantic to pull it all together and smother any attempts by Interpublic to move in new management.
Back in London, 10 of our top people agreed to make a go of it. Carl Spielvogel, an Interpublic vice-president, took me for a drink at Claridge’s and told me, implausibly, that our move could put 4,000 Interpublic families on the street. And the following weekend, The Sunday Times ran a story about "The biggest ever advertising breakaway on either side of the Atlantic". Boase Massimi Pollitt began noisily.
Martin Boase is the co-founder of Boase Massimi Pollitt