In December 1967, Interpublic, the largest advertising group in the
world, was near bankruptcy. Fearful of being sold, the board of
Pritchard Wood, one of its London agencies, offered to buy itself out.
Top management in New York urged patience: ’Don’t do anything
precipitate - you could put 8,000 families on the street.’ But on one
Thursday in May 1968, it was a surprise when Bob Healey, president of
IPG, appeared in London and agreed to sell.
Negotiations were to start in London on Saturday two days later, but as
our orthodox Jewish adviser could not work on the Sabbath, the meeting
was postponed until Monday in New York. I flew over with an entourage
only to find that Interpublic was no longer selling. The reason? It had
found the finance over the weekend to keep the corporation afloat.
Those were the almost whimsical circumstances that led to the formation
of Boase Massimi Pollitt, rather than the buyout of Pritchard Wood.
Recognising before anybody else what has now become axiomatic (Saatchi &
Saatchi was still two years away), the race was on to get back to London
and hit the papers. We got there first and a kind and able journalist
called Gwen Nuttall wrote half a page in the Sunday Times on ’the
biggest breakaway in advertising history - on either side of the
Atlantic’. Still true - ten directors from one agency leaving to set up
on their own.
Pritchard Wood, where we all came from, was a British agency, formed in
the 30s. In 1960 it sold out to Interpublic because it didn’t think it
could survive without an international connection.
It was around the top ten with some important accounts. By 1968, thanks
to the importation from the US of the creative director, Gabe Massimi,
it had begun to produce distinctive work. At the same time, Stanley
Pollitt was already developing the germs of the account planning idea to
ensure that this bright new work was rooted in relevance.
After a brief and uncomfortable few weeks in our Jewish adviser’s office
in Manchester Square, we took space on the corner of Goodge Street and
Tottenham Court Road over the Golden Egg cafe. The floor below us was
occupied by David Puttnam, late of CDP. He represented various
photographers, such as David Bailey and David Montgomery.
On the top floor was the designer, Michael Peters, with his partner, Lou
Klein; they designed our corporate paperwork. And on the floor above us
were Charlie Saatchi, Ross Cramer and John Hegarty, freelance creatives
whom we were too proud to employ even when we hadn’t cracked a creative
We were determined to make even more noise. So after endless persuasion,
we managed to get a former Cabinet minister, Ernest Marples, to become
chairman. Now long dead, and forgotten by many, he was a fairly
notorious and popular figure of the day. He was a successful businessman
who became a top politician, introducing the country to motorways,
parking meters and premium bonds. His appointment featured on the main
BBC news and the electronic ticker tape in Piccadilly Circus.
General noise about BMP continued; we even insisted that all company
Minis (no longer the grander cars of the Pritchard Wood days) were
chocolate brown and carried the agency name.
We had expected at least some business to follow us from Pritchard
None did, with the crucial exception of Cadbury, who gave us several
brands including Smash instant potato, which eventually became our
imprimatur with some great television advertising.
This was crucial. Packaged goods were the home of big budgets and
advertising sophistication. The arrival of Cadbury allowed us to claim
that we were ’a big agency in everything but size’. Thankfully, other
accounts followed fairly rapidly in order to occupy the many hands
already on the payroll.
With so many chiefs, the structure of the agency inevitably involved a
pretty shallow hierarchy. But, with all of us putting in borrowed money,
ownership was widely spread.
From our previous existence we took a fully formed concept. This was the
notion of combining a commitment to distinctive advertising,
underwritten by a guarantee of relevance - the beginning of the account
Our obsession with this point of view, this idea, meant the fundamental
satisfaction of those that work at BMP has always been to get the
At the risk of sounding pious, winning business, keeping accounts and
turning a decent profit have always taken second place to this
professional urge. Thirty years is a long time to stay at the top of
both the creative awards and new-business pitch-lists, but I suspect it
has something to do with that initial BMP idea.
TOP TEN AGENCIES IN 1968 BY BILLINGS
1 J. Walter Thompson pounds 20.2m
2 Masius Wynne-Williams pounds 18.8m
3 Ogilvy & Mather pounds 12.5m
4 Young & Rubicam pounds 10.4m
5 S. H. Benson pounds 9.8m
6 Hobson Bates pounds 9.5m
7 London Press Exchange pounds 8.7m
8 Lintas pounds 8.7m
9 Dorland pounds 7.1m
10 Erwin Wasey/PWP pounds 6.5m
It was not too long after the launch of Boase Massimi Pollitt that a
headhunter sidled up to Mike Greenlees and asked if he’d ever thought of
going into advertising. Then enjoying life as the group brand manager of
cigars at Imperial Tobacco, Greenlees confessed he hadn’t given much
consideration to a leap over the fence to the agency side.
However, he decided to ask for more information. The headhunter
mentioned an agency name: BMP. This rang only a faint bell. Then he
mentioned an ad campaign - BMP’s famous ’serious rival’ work for
Cadbury’s Smash - and Greenlees began to take an avid interest. And so a
few weeks later, Greenlees hooked up to the BMP phenomenon.
In the very early days, he says, BMP was not so much viewed as a new
phenomenon but as ’a gang of guys who broke away from Pritchard
It was only after ’serious rival’ and its sequel featuring the famous
Smash Martians broke that the wider industry realised it had a genuine
new competitor on its hands.
Greenlees stayed at BMP for three years. They were eventful and fun
years he says, in which rule-breaking was the order of the day: ’It was
like working in an advertising kibbutz. People were really passionate.
It was heady and exciting. Ideas were the hero.
’There was this inspired marriage between extraordinary creative talent
and a strong intellectual foundation, and it worked really well.’
Greenlees is not surprised that BMP is as successful and innovative
today as it was at the beginning. ’One of the things that made it clear
it would be a long-term success,’ he says, ’was that it had a very
strong culture and a very strong sense of its own self worth.’
Mike Greenlees is now president and chief executive of TBWA
It was 1968, and John Bartle, a junior marketing services manager at
Cadbury Schweppes food group, was in a very boring meeting. Not that he
didn’t like the guy he was with - Peter Jones from Pritchard Wood - but
not much was happening.
Then the phone rang for Jones. It was to tell him that the long-awaited
deal was on. He and his colleagues were finally breaking away to form
their own agency, Boase Massimi Pollitt.
’I was surprised,’ says Bartle, ’as it was the first I’d heard of it,
but pleased for Peter. We stopped the meeting, and went down the pub to
toast his success.’ A few days later, Bartle’s boss, the Cadbury
marketing director, John Harvey, called Bartle to his office.
’Stanley (Pollitt) was there,’ Bartle recalls, ’and he said these guys
were starting their own agency, and ’should we give them our business?’
I could hardly say no with Stanley sitting there, not that I would
Everyone knew that they had been producing the best work of all our
agencies, and all of them had gone to BMP.’
And so, only days after opening, the fledgling BMP had its first, rather
prestigious, client in Cadbury.
’I believe that Pritchard Wood flew in some people from the US to try to
persuade us not to move but, in this case, the good guys won,’ Bartle
’With such a big-name client to begin with and the best people in the
business, they were always going to do well. But Stanley was a very
modest man, and he would have been surprised at the success of the
He was not in the highest order of sartorial elegance, but he was the
brightest there was. He would be very proud of this agency today.’
John Bartle is now joint chief executive of Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Jeremy Bullmore was running the creative department of London’s biggest
agency, J. Walter Thompson, when news first broke of the launch of
’It didn’t make much of a song and dance of it,’ he recalls. ’It didn’t
come out with the usual patter. You know: ’we’re the first agency ever
to do this; we’ve broken the mould.’ Yet we recognised BMP as a proper
agency from the beginning. It was thoughtful and inventive right from
Bullmore, of course, knew more about BMP’s secret weapon - the new
discipline of account planning - than most others in the industry at the
JWT’s Stephen King had separately come up with an almost identical
concept, and they were implementing this together at JWT. So Bullmore
and King watched with particular interest as the fledgling BMP began to
flourish from its fairly low-key beginnings.
’It wasn’t as though the three hottest names in London had got
together,’ Bullmore remembers.
’Martin (Boase) was a humble account man, and Stanley (Pollitt) was
known as good in research circles but otherwise he was low profile. Only
(creative director) Gabe Massimi was relatively well-known. All the
same, the little one knew about the individuals told you it would be a
That description holds true today, says Bullmore, who believes BMP has
been true to itself since it launched 30 years ago. He still admires the
fusion of intelligence with creativity BMP uses in its brand strategy
’There are advertising agencies and advertisement agencies,’ Bullmore
says. ’It was obvious from day one that BMP was an advertising
Jeremy Bullmore is now a non-executive director of WPP.