British advertising needs another middle-ranking agency like a hole
in the head and it’s difficult to see how the coupling of Court Burkitt
with Griffin Bacal will create an entity greater than the sum of its
Neither shop has exactly set the UK advertising scene on fire in recent
years. Both have been heavily dependent on single clients -Hasbro and
United Distillers & Vintners - and the forecast must be that the merged
operation has a tough fight ahead in a massively over-supplied
Omnicom-owned Griffin Bacal has been an object lesson on how being
bankrolled by one big client can be a double-edged sword. Hasbro, the
US-based toymaker, is its raison d’etre. It provided the impetus for the
agency to set up shop in London 13 years ago and it still accounts for
up to 70 per cent of its business.
But Griffin Bacal has found its Hasbro comfort blanket suffocating as
much as warming. Local new business has been hard to come by not only
because potential clients have been reluctant to sign for an agency so
dominated by one advertiser but also because its senior management has
been so focused on Hasbro there has been little time for anything else.
Occasional outbursts of creativity, like its witty print campaign for
Orangeboom lager, have been rare and unsustainable.
At Court Burkitt, a spreading of the client base can’t disguise the
effect of the diminished amount of UDV business at the agency or the
conclusion that it is something of a distress purchase by Omnicom.
All of this goes to show that, when it comes to acquiring smaller
networks, major groups still find it hard to look beyond instant
WPP’s Conquest, formed as a repository for Alfa Romeo’s pan-European
account, has taken a decade to emerge from its identity crisis. Griffin
Bacal, having brought its Hasbro dowry to Omnicom, has yet to find its
true place within the enlarged family.
If the newly created Burkitt DDB is to thrive, Omnicom will need to
nurture it by ensuring that it is fed business that is neither large
enough nor appropriate for its larger operations to handle. If it is
neglected, it will become a mere sideshow that will find it hard to
attract quality people. Its best hope is to relaunch itself with an
aggressive new-business programme that will doubtless be given added
momentum by the earn-out deals of the senior managers. Above all, it
must have something special to say.