Campaign Supplement on BMP DDB 1968-1998: The BMP Family - BMP Optimum. Taking on the media independents, BMP Optimum has mixed brains with brawn, Richard Cook writes

BMP has always done things a little bit differently. Consider this: when in the mid-80s the media independents began to challenge full-service agencies, their battleground was price. One by one clients bought the argument, and the likes of Zenith, TMD and CIA prospered as a result. But so too did BMP.

BMP has always done things a little bit differently. Consider this:

when in the mid-80s the media independents began to challenge

full-service agencies, their battleground was price. One by one clients

bought the argument, and the likes of Zenith, TMD and CIA prospered as a

result. But so too did BMP.

’The media independents were perceived to be really hard buyers and, as

a consequence, all the mainstream agencies, ourselves included, were

initially seen as soft lads,’ BMP Optimum’s director, Tim McCloskey,


’But what quickly became apparent is that although on the one hand we

were doing media planning very differently and investing in

bright-thinking guys such as Derek Morris and Andy Tilley, we also

offered a load of hardnut buyers. We wanted great thinking but

recognised that we needed to be good buyers as well, and that was

unique. And that’s why we won so many centralisation pitches.’

And now that the price performances of the top buying points have become

less of a point of difference, planning and the quality of thinking tend

to be the most important differentiators. As the more cerebral

planning/buying shops such as MGM and New PHD have prospered, so too has


’Clients accept that the largest-billing companies are now likely to be

buying at very similar rates,’ says Paul Taylor, BMP Optimum’s managing


’As a consequence, a lot of the pitches now focus on what the media

component can do to enhance value. And that’s where the BMP ethos - of

advertising understanding, modelling research and an insistence on

quality planning - has really come into its own.’

It’s an ethos that has stood the company in good stead from its earliest

days, back in 1985, when the agency won its very first piece of

media-only work.

BMP started out, of course, as the quintessential, traditional

full-service agency. The media department’s first media-only client was

St Ivel, a former full-service client of the agency that had moved its

business to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. At the time, BBH didn’t have its own

media department but used John Ayling & Associates instead. St Ivel,

however, opted to keep its media at BMP. ’It was the first time that a

client asked if we would we be prepared to stay on as its media company.

And it really all started from there,’ Taylor explains.

One typically prescient early innovation was the launch in 1987 of the

first media consultancy by the media director at the time, Tim Cox. BMP

Solutions in Media was designed as an early experiment in taking media

beyond the price issue and it proved especially popular with media

owners such as the Racing Post, Anglia TV and the TV Times, whose

planning demanded an almost labyrinthian complexity.

But it was really by taking on the media independents at their own game

that BMP’s media department prospered. ’By the late 80s and early 90s

many of our medium-sized clients had switched on to the buying-better

philosophy and we benefited from this enormously,’ McCloskey says. ’They

practically all elected to centralise their brands into one media


Typically the pitch list they assembled would be comprised of TMD,

Zenith and at least one or two of the incumbents. We seemed to keep

picking up the big ones: CPC in 1991, British Gas the following year. We

got noticed because a number of our key clients were choosing us over

the other options.

It meant that we could offer buying at a better price but also media

thinking that was very much integrated into advertising.’

The next stage was for BMP to start impressing outside its existing core

client base. ’We won every centralisation in a row of existing clients.

That got us noticed by non-clients,’ Taylor remembers. ’But our first

real success on the open market was with Boots -still one of the largest

centralisations of recent years. We weren’t actively working with Boots

but we had been noticed by it and by its consultants. We held the

creative for some Crookes brands but the media was through Zenith.’

At a stroke the Boots win propelled BMP media into the top echelons of

media’s premier league. It wasn’t just the billings - although at around

pounds 70 million that was clearly important. It was the fact that BMP

had shown it could live with the toughest price negotiators and yet

still impress with the breadth of its lateral thinking.

Actually, this crucial Boots pitch was not won simply on price grounds

at all. ’We won by coming up with a strategy that involved servicing

each of the different divisions as individual companies,’ Taylor


’They didn’t just want their billings to be aggregated, they wanted to

know that their individual brands were being well represented. Others

concentrated on the volume that the deal would bring and the leverage

they could expect as a result. We regarded it as six separate pitches to

the six different marketing directors involved in the group.’

After Boots, BMP attracted a consistent level of enquiries, pitches and

wins - to the order of pounds 50 million worth of billings a year. And

certainly that has been the trend in each of the past four years. And

because this growth has been so measured, it has allowed BMP to keep its

proposition constant. ’We still define ourselves exactly as we have done

since we first opened our doors,’ says Taylor. ’We are the media company

that can produce balanced solutions between well thought-out strategies,

which are well researched, well understood and which can be taken to the

market and well executed. And that is still the basis of our proposition


But growth has helped to change one fundamental aspect of the agency’s

character. Last year, media-only work became, for the first time, worth

more than half of total billings. The response was straightforward and

swift. It was to launch BMP Optimum in April 1997 as a truly stand-alone

media operation.

’We felt that was the turning point when we passed 50 per cent of

independent billings,’ says Taylor. ’ We just felt we needed the respect

factor so that clients coming in would know that we were there as a

media specialist but that we still chose to carry the BMP name. A lot of

media companies have run away from very weak mother brands in the past.

We had a fantastic brand to associate with and one that instantly told

people who we were.’

The choice of brand name also reflected a growing international

dimension, Optimum being the DDB international media brand. This all

started off with the international Gillette and Pepsi accounts, both of

which had previously been handled by BBDO within the Omnicom network.

Since then, others have followed on behind, including Duracell and


But if the growing international business is one vision of the future,

the other is more safely rooted in BMP’s rigorous planning past. Mark

Palmer was recruited as a highly-regarded, cerebral media man from WCRS

to head the planning at the one agency in town that pre-eminently pays

more than lip service to the notion. It even has shelves of IPA awards

to prove it. For Palmer, the future lies in a more holistic media

approach, focusing on helping clients to solve their advertising

problems rather than merely concentrating on scheduling the right TV


’Clients nowadays want solutions that will cut through. That solution

could be selling that product, or managing that phone line, or taking

care of the call handling, or simply getting the trade force motivated.

It’s so diverse now that they need people who can think about the whole

advertising communication and not just about the media spot buying, and

that is what we are now trying to do. And what we now see as the biggest

challenge in the future.’


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