In 1979, the BMP projectionist, Bill Lea, approached the principals
of the agency with a proposal which he believed could contribute to the
creativity of the agency, add flexibility and be self-supporting.
At the time, BMP had no archive and was producing upwards of 100
animatics a year, all on film, and each taking around ten days to
complete. By using video, Lea knew he could more than halve that
The proposal was simple and Billco Video Production was formed in 1980
as a separate company owned by BMP, but with its own identity and
And the origins of the name? Asked by Campaign at the time, Martin Boase
responded: ’It’s Bill’s company. What else would we call it?’
Billco spent the next few years on ’death row’, a section of the agency
so called because most of the people who worked there seemed to be
fired, made redundant or came to an unhappy ending. During that time,
Billco won the confidence of the creative department, produced thousands
of animatics, set up systems and archives and developed a competitive
advertising monitoring system. Over that period Billco grew hugely - to
a massive total of four people, including its own accounts department,
all employed from within BMP.
In the late 80s, as recession began to hit the agency world, Lea
realised that service areas in traditional agencies were coming under
pressure as businesses looked to cut costs. Information departments were
being whittled down to their bare bones and, in some cases, shut.
Research departments and video production facilities were also in the
Lea also realised that BMP’s methodology meant that it relied on these
services more than most to enable it to produce the kind of work it was
famous for. A solution was required, so it seemed fairly obvious to take
the model of Billco Video Production, incorporate all the service
departments that existed within BMP, and create a group that could be as
self-supporting as possible.
Moreover, since ex-BMP staff, particularly those starting their own
agencies, were already using Billco for some of its services, it seemed
only logical to extend the idea even further.
A proposal and business plan was written jointly by Lea and Nicky Lloyd
Owen, then BMP’s deputy planning director, in conjunction with the
relevant department heads: Judy Tombleson was head of information; Susan
Edwards, in charge of research recruitment; and Louise Cook from the
This proposal was presented to the agency executive and approved. Lea,
Lloyd Owen and the now expanded Billco group of 19 people celebrated in
style at the late-lamented Le Chef restaurant.
Space was found on the third floor (those were the days, remembers Lea,
when space was no object) and the construction of a Billco office
The new(ish) blue doors opened in 1989 with a party.
Tombleson, Edwards and Cook all became directors of the company, with
Lea and Lloyd Owen named joint managing directors. Another person, Karen
Wright, who was to become key, was also recruited - on Earl’s Court
station, much to her surprise.
Shortly after BMP embarked on its merger phase (taking over Davidson
Pearce in 1988 and merging with DDB in 1989), Billco emerged with some
120 new clients scattered across the world - otherwise known as the DDB
network - and two new departments.
The first was the presentations unit, a small but perfectly formed baby
for Wright, who became a director, to look after. Its function was to do
everything from scanning and retouching artwork to the creation of
all-singing, all-dancing digital presentations. However its creative
reputation rests more on its infamous leaving cards and invitations.
The second new department, creative research, was inherited from
Davidson Pearce, and comprised two people who supported the creative and
TV production departments by hunting down everything needed to produce
creative advertising. This was headed by Frances Burke, now a TV
producer within the agency.
Over the next few years, the business grew as the external work expanded
and the group continued to develop in new areas, most significantly into
multimedia. This developed after the presentation unit was set up, when
it quickly became apparent that the multimedia sector would grow
So, in 1995, Billco Multimedia was born, with Andrew Howells, Simon
Burton and Fiona Power, all of whom were plucked from Metrovideo where
they had successfully set up a multimedia production company. Howells
became a director of the Billco group, and together they set about
building a team to provide strategy, design and production skills to
work alongside the rest of Billco.
The multimedia group currently specialises in interface design,
interactive kiosks, 3-D animations and websites. Awards include three
for Hasbro, one of them an effectiveness prize. Howells says: ’This just
proves we can continue the traditions started by BMP.’
At full strength, the Billco group comprises 46 staff. It works for more
than 80 group companies and around 140 non-BMP DDB companies.
Third-party clients include all the top 20 agencies, Red Spider, Hasbro,
the BBC, the David Letterman Show, Shell, Mondex and Emap Radio.
Despite its growth, Lea maintains the culture at Billco has remained
unchanged. ’All the departments are given a large degree of autonomy and
everyone’s voice is heard, much as it is at BMP. Everyone has the
freedom to chip in, contribute and do their own thing. The environment
is interesting, stimulating, full of noise, movement and images,’ he
He adds: ’One of the best things they’ve done is stick together. It’s an
extended family really. Most of the people here now were there ten years