Both agencies launched with a strong creative principle and a desire to do things differently. Both have grown to become micro-networks celebrated for their creative commitment and excellence. Thirty years on, both still have founders steering the corporate ethos. And both are still setting an industry agenda.
The DNA of both companies has roots in bucking the status quo. Both were born out of dissatisfaction with the traditional agency model.
Through the 70s, Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty were running TBWA. They say they ran it as though it was their own company, with all the blind dedication, long hours and personal sacrifice that implies. But with not enough of the rewards that usually follow entrepreneurial success. Similarly, over in Portland, Oregon – then a backwater of a backwater – Wieden and Kennedy were working together on the Nike account at McCann Erickson, but feeling increasingly frustrated by corporate constraints. They wanted to found a different type of agency.
Both agencies did very well very quickly, Wieden & Kennedy partly because the duo took the Nike account with them when they quit McCann, and Nike went on to expand rapidly into one of the most successful sports brands in the world, and Bartle Bogle Hegarty because Audi, Whitbread and Levi’s took an early leap and handed it their business in pretty short order. Now both agencies mark their 30th anniversary with world-beating reputations and with their founding clients Nike and Audi still signed up.
Of course, both agencies have had their low points over the years, losing key clients and making redundancies at odds with their family principles. But it’s hard to imagine that the two companies would have ridden the three decades quite so well without the strong leadership of their founders. In maintaining their independence for so long (though Publicis Groupe holds a minority stake in BBH), both agencies have bucked the industry trend and held firm the foundations of their businesses. Whether 30 years of independence is enough to secure the agencies’ culture and success once their founders move aside, it’s impossible to tell. But they stand a better chance than agencies that cash in quickly.
Which brings me on to this week’s hottest, though vigorously denied, rumour. Few stories elicit quite the number of phone calls into the Campaign office as the Adam & Eve rumour has this week. The story goes that A&E is in talks with DDB about a merger. Tosh, say all concerned. I hope it is. It would be nice to think that three decades of independence isn’t an anachronism.