Nigel Bogle looked to be just about the most uncomfortable man in The Grosvenor last Wednesday, when he made the long walk across the empty dancefloor to collect his British Television Advertising Awards Chairman's Award.
Famously shy and on-message in equal doses, the award must have been more than a little counter-cultural for a man who has lived and breathed the Bartle Bogle Hegarty mantra "none of us is as good as all of us" for 23 years. There will also have been some raised eyebrows in the audience.
Bogle is, after all, still an account man, for all his strategic prowess.
The award normally recognises creative talent.
Most jarring, though, was the near-total absence of work from Bogle's agency at the 2006 awards: just one silver, for the Vodafone "mayfly" spot. If he looked uncomfortable collecting his gong it was, he says, because he was acutely aware of BBH's failure to set the Grosvenor alight this year.
"I know I've this reputation for never being satisfied," Bogle says. "I was embarrassed to collect that award when we only got one silver."
Were there not a few bronzes, I wonder. "I don't look at bronzes," he says. "Today (the day after) we're already talking about how we're going to get our work better."
Popular perception of BBH in recent years is that it has let the work slip at the expense of winning, and bedding down, new business. It has been remarkably successful at the latter - wins in 2005 included the global Omo account and the British Airways business.
Bogle disagrees that focusing attention on those spinning plates has caused BBH to take its eye off the creative work.
"We did bite off a lot of business last year, and we won a lot the year before. It often takes a while to get to the place to do great work - you don't know the client and you don't know the category. When you get new business, you have that gestation period and I think that's why this year hasn't been that great."
That, of course, is to ignore a list of existing clients whose work failed to contribute to BBH's quiver, although there are mitigating circumstances - it's been a bad year for Levi's, so the jeans giant hasn't invested in its traditional award-winning work, and Bogle thinks the new Lynx "click" spot, starring Ben Affleck, will be a winner.
Besides, BBH has been enjoying an unprecedented run of success over the past three years, and if a dearth of awards is raising eyebrows among its peers, it's not causing clients to question their faith.
Bogle has pondered the secret of BBH's success: yes, the famed succession management system at the agency plays a part, but at the heart of the success is, he thinks, structure and process.
"BBH is quite a process-driven company," he says. "One of the benefits of being organised is you can cope with growth and your systems don't break down. We've grown a lot and one of the reasons we've had a good three years is we're an organised business."
The flipside is that BBH opens itself up to the charge of being overly dry and lacking the sense of fun that other agencies have.
Bogle argues that BBH has always come in for this kind of stick. "There was a time when people said we were arrogant, but I think there's an element of truth in what you're saying," he says. Nonetheless, flamboyance at the expense of output is anathema to him: "I think advertising should get a bit more serious. Clients are asking big questions of agencies and this industry is becoming less influential. It keeps moaning about it, but maybe if it was less irreverent, it would be taken more seriously."
Here, it's hard to distinguish the Bogle from the BBH view of the industry. Legend has it that when he announced to the board that he'd be leaving an hour early one afternoon each week to spend more time with his children, he contacted the payroll department and instructed them to reduce his salary accordingly. Process and structure.
"He's generally misunderstood by a lot of people, but he's very fair and will always let you know where you stand," the United chief strategic officer, Charlie Robertson, reminisces on his BBH days. "He's supremely demanding in a positive way, but he's got a sense of humour that's second to none when he relaxes, which isn't often."
Tim Lindsay, the Publicis chairman who worked at BBH with Bogle, describes him succinctly: "He's always been brilliant. He's the person who's changed least over the 20-odd years I've known him. He would probably have been able to win pitches while he was still at prep school."
An account man at heart (he's still very close to the Vodafone and Levi's businesses, and signals his loyalty by pointing to the label on his jeans) Bogle sees his role at the agency now as plotting the future. "My main role is twofold-creating an environment in which people can truly fulfil their potential and to try to see the future clearly and get other people to come with us." Hence his idea for a BBH micro-network ten years ago - dismissed at the time by a sceptical industry but now proving itself with a string of larger networks aping the concept.
"A major reason we did it was to give people bigger horizons - if you want the best people to come and work for you and stay, just being a creative hotshop in the UK wasn't going to be enough," he says.
How big will the network get, I wonder. "Seven," Bogle replies, without batting an eyelid. "We haven't done India yet, it's the obvious gap on the map." How does it make him feel, watching Sorrell and his ilk attempt to fashion their own micro-networks? "I find it quite amusing - everyone said it wasn't do-able when we started it."
Meanwhile, there's a future to plot in the London office. And although he's 58, Bogle is a long way from thinking about retirement. BBH's content arm, headed by Mark Boyd, excites him. Then there's the engagement planning division run by Kevin Brown, which Bogle thinks has the potential to truly shake up the creative process, taking it from an "account man briefs planner briefs creative" process to what he brands "4D working" - creative, planner, account manager and engagement planner all sitting around the same table, working together on an idea.
Such plans, he says, help him stay excited after almost a quarter of a century at the same company.
"It does sound a bit sad to me - coming to the same place for 23 years, doing the same thing, but it doesn't feel like that. I've got a very highly developed fear of failure, which is a lot of what drives BBH, and I get a huge buzz out of what we do well. It's like a drug."
THE LOWDOWN Name: Nigel Bogle Age: 58 Lives: London and Sussex Family: Divorced; children Nathan, Amy, Ben, Rosie Best career move: Becoming a founding partner at TBWA\London, where I met John and John Favourite ad: Once I have a favourite, it's all over Describe yourself in three words: Very easy-going