Bill Kiely, whose chairmanship of FCB spanned some of its most
triumphant and turbulent years, never forgot the time he walked into the
agency’s Baker Street office for the first time to find its clients’
names chiselled into its marbled walls.
Even in 1968 this must have seemed a trifle arrogant. In 1997, the 50th
anniversary of FCB’s arrival in London, it would be downright crass. No
agency can rely on such unswerving client loyalty any more, although
FCB’s coming to terms with changing times and new realities has been
more cathartic than for most.
Today, the steady rise of FCB - which turned the Dulux dog into a brand
icon, assured British Airways customers that ’we’ll take more care of
you’ and devised one of advertising’s enduring images, the Sure ’tick’
on a perspiring back - and its dramatic demise over little more than two
years qualifies as an industry morality tale.
Certainly, there are lessons to be learned from what happened to an
agency once so supremely self-confident that it won 14 out of 15
Even more remarkable is how FCB allowed one of the biggest account moves
in UK advertising history to tear it apart, traded critical mass for
cultural dilution through a string of unwise acquisitions and allowed
political in-fighting to transform it from sure-footed champion in the
late 70s to punch-drunk also-ran a decade later.
It was a fate nobody would have expected of FCB’s London office when in
1947 it set up in a converted house that once belonged to General Franco
and was set on course with military efficiency by Brian MacCabe.
MacCabe was the office’s first manager and it was conceived in his
A true action man, he ran for England in the 800 metres final at the
1936 Berlin Olympics. He had an outstanding war record at a time when
such things mattered. He was a tank commander at El Alamein, was awarded
the Military Cross and bar and carried the shrapnel from three woundings
in his body.
To FCB’s Chicago bosses, MacCabe epitomised British guts. Fairfax Cone,
the ’C’ of FCB, hailed him as ’just the kind of fighting man to head an
American advertising agency in England’. And MacCabe undoubtedly needed
all his combative spirit, running a fledgling agency amid postwar
austerity and shortages exacerbated by one of the harshest winters in
MacCabe set a style which lasted well into the autumn of his life and
which was perpetuated by Kiely, whose promotion to managing director in
1973 marked the start of FCB’s golden years. This time, however, the
army-style approach of the former soldier who rose through the ranks to
become a staff captain was coupled with sound commercial disciplines
learned as a Unilever brand manager.
A bluff and canny little Lancastrian with a penchant for suede shoes,
Kiely could sometimes seem like a music-hall northerner. Andrew
Cracknell, the former FCB creative director who is now chairman of
Ammirati Puris Lintas, recalls: ’However he was dressed, I always saw a
Kiely wasn’t the most articulate of leaders - ’He could barely string a
sentence together,’ Don Cowley, an ex-FCB planning director, remembers -
but he was quick to recognise advertising’s emotional pulling power and
had a knack of keeping things simple.
’Bill’s Unilever background was matched by a way of developing strategy
and tactics that was almost militaristic,’ Mike Parker, a former FCB
director who now runs Team Saatchi, says. ’He had some very definite
views on account management which were spelt out on laminates. Even
something as fundamental as how to hold meetings was included.’
But it was the double act of Kiely and his creative director, Len
Sugerman, that galvanised the agency. Ample of girth and something of a
carouser, there was much of the showman about Sugerman. He had an
instinct for spotting the creative talent he himself lacked, he
installed pianos in the creative department, acted as its highly vocal
ambassador to the advertising world at large, and helped change the
balance of the agency which had, hitherto, been dominated by account
As a result, FCB’s creative output seemed out of character with a
US-owned and marketing-driven shop. It had built a stable of big,
TV-advertised brands and, with the consolidation of BA’s global account
into the agency in 1973 - it had already handled BOAC for 25 years - its
creative platform was not only strengthened but its status within the
FCB network enhanced.
Such was FCB’s creative potency at the time that its ’looking up’
campaign for BA proved to be some of the most innovative airline
advertising ever seen, moving away from the traditional images of
starchy stewardesses with phony smiles. Equally important, it became a
magnet for other business.
’Clients would just come in and hand over their accounts,’ a former
senior manager remembers. ’We were really motoring.’
So why did it all go horribly wrong? Many believe FCB never came to
terms fully with the loss of BA. Others who know the agency well suggest
the seeds of destruction were sown well before the Saatchi brothers
plundered the account.
Brian Watson, FCB’s long-serving deputy creative director, traces the
source of the decline to its decision to stop pitching and consolidate
its existing business while producing creativity that could vie with CDP
- then the sexiest shop in town - at awards ceremonies. ’Nobody realised
it couldn’t be done overnight,’ he says.
Simultaneously, the agency’s distinctive ’family’ atmosphere was
destroyed by a series of managerial mismatches sparked by Kiely who
wanted to spread his workload and appoint a managing director to share
his burden. His choice was an outsider, Ian Fawn-Meade, a creative who
Sugerman immediately perceived as a threat. Bill Barry too, hired by
Kiely to lock in BA, failed to hit it off with the new arrival. Tired of
the ganging-up, Fawn-Meade quit for a job in the US.
Charles Doxat, his successor, fared no better, resigning after little
more than a year following a boardroom row. ’It was me versus Barry,’
Doxat says. ’He won.’
Some claim the hirings were part of Kiely’s tactic of what a former
staffer calls his ’stirring of the pot’ to keep himself in power.
’Kiely’s problem was that he didn’t have enough management skills,’
another ex-senior manager claims. ’He was good at being matey with the
boys but not at running a collegiate system.’ Whatever the truth,
Kiely’s mistaken choices were to haunt him for the rest of his life. ’I
built that agency,’ he exclaimed shortly before his death, ’and, by God,
I destroyed it.’
Advertising folklore has it that FCB was the victim of a political
stitch-up over BA, which was said to have been ’gifted’ to the Saatchis
by Margaret Thatcher for their help in bringing the Conservatives to
power in 1979.
It was a view Barry, by now the chief executive, perpetuated publicly,
ranting against the injustice of it all and telling reporters that
’British Airways certainly hasn’t taken more care of us after all the
help we’ve given’.
Barry’s defenders claim he was caught between a rock and a hard place on
BA, his agency having been threatened with the sack by the then
marketing director, Gerry Draper, if he went above his head to the new
chairman, Sir John King.
His detractors accuse the agency of arrogance, of underestimating King’s
agenda for change at the beleaguered airline and placing an
over-reliance on the strength of the link between Barry and Draper.
Apocryphal horror stories abound of Kiely telling King that the agency
wasn’t accustomed to dealing with ’part-time chairmen’ and of a senior
FCB executive swinging his feet on to King’s desk.
The BA earthquake produced a series of aftershocks. ’The agency still
behaved as if it was solid and substantial,’ Barry Smith, a former
creative director, recalls. ’But it shook the place more than anybody
cared to admit’. Not least Barry, who became obsessive about what had
happened rather than seeking to repair the damage. Clients walked and
senior staff followed them.
FCB appeared rudderless and panic-stricken. Barry, unable to halt the
decline, was stripped of the chairmanship. There were ill-starred bids
to recreate the past, as first Kiely and then Sugerman returned to head
the London operation. Attempts to ’buy’ accounts to compensate for the
BA loss proved disastrous. The 1983 worldwide merger with Norman Craig
and Kummel to gain Colgate-Palmolive looked good from Illinois but
dreadful from London where Elida Gibbs had to be resigned.
Today, none of the staff and almost none of the business remain from the
1991 acquisition of the Creative Business for a reported pounds 2
million while pounds 6 million of Sun Alliance business, which should
have come from the takeover of Smedley McAlpine’s consumer division,
So too did the agency culture, particularly when FCB allied itself
worldwide with Publicis, giving the Paris-based network control of FCB’s
European offices, including London. FCB’s feelings of inferiority were
made worse when it was shoehorned out of Baker Street to make way for
Publicis. ’Doing anything for lunch?’ one senior creative apparently
asked another when morale was at its lowest. ’If not, I thought we’d go
slit our wrists.’
With the ending of the alliance five months ago and FCB back in full
control of its London operation, Chris Rendel, the chief executive,
knows there is much historical baggage yet to shed if the agency is to
rebuild its domestic reputation with business to sit alongside recently
’gifted’ international alignments from Kimberly-Clark and S. C.
’There are a lot of marketers who began their careers in the 80s and can
only remember us in decline,’ he says. ’Those people are now marketing
directors and our potential clients. But our culture is back as it
should be. I really believe we’re on the way back.’
The history of FCB
1947 FCB opens London office in a converted house .Wins BOAC. Billings
total pounds 37,616.
1948 Brian MacCabe joins as manager. Move to Hill Street.
1959 Moves to Baker Street.
December 1968 Bill Kiely quits Lintas to join FCB board.
May 1973 BOAC and British European Airways merge to form British
Airways. FCB wins combined account.
May 1975 Len Sugerman takes creative control from Jim Tucker.
December 1977 Kiely succeeds MacCabe as chairman.
September 1979 Assistant managing director Mike Parker leaves. Bill
Barry replaces him.
January 1981 Ian Fawn-Meade becomes managing director.
May 1981 Sugarman becomes executive creative director of FCB in New York
and London. Appointed by NatWest bank to handle its first corporate ad
June 1981 Barry appointed managing director and CEO.
July 1981 Andrew Cracknell joins as creative director.
February 1982 FCB named Agency of the Year by Campaign.
September 1982 British Airways goes to Saatchi and Saatchi. Austin Rover
consolidates entire account within Leo Burnett.
August 1983 FCB merges with Norman Craig and Kummel.
September 1983 Cracknell quits FCB to join WCRS.
May 1984 Charles Doxat hired from Dorland Advertising as managing
November 1985 Doxat resigns as managing director after boardroom row.
Kiely returns to London office. Sugerman returns from New York as
vice-chairman and creative director.
February 1986 Dulux reviews pounds 9 million account after 25 years at
May 1986 Barry moves sideways to allow group chairman Kiely to come out
of semi-retirement to take charge.
October 1986 Sugerman appointed chairman and CEO of FCB in London.
May 1987 Kiely retires after 38 years in advertising. Sugerman succeeds
June 1987 Heinz, frustrated at FCB’s management problems, fires the
July 1987 Barry Smith resigns as creative director. Mike Strauss,
chairman and chief creative officer of FCB Australia, appointed managing
September 1987 Paul Delaney appointed creative director.
January 1988 Gillette reviews out of the agency.
May1988 FCB forms worldwide alliance with Publicis.
June 1988 FCB merges with Mallett McCormick. Combined agency headed by
Tony Dalton, ex-chairman of Ted Bates. Strauss sidelined.
January 1990 Work for US evangelist, Billy Graham, named as Campaign’s
Campaign of the Year.
October 1991 Acquires Creative Business. TCB’s Mike Detsiny becomes
January 1992 Delaney quits as creative director.
February 1992 FCB moves from Baker Street to its current offices in St
May 1992 Dalton announces he is leaving.
December 1992 MacCabe dies, aged 78.
February 1994 Alan Midgley and John Bacon replace Mike Isaacson as
December 1994 Chris Rendel, Ogilvy and Mather group account director on
Ford, is made managing director.
January 1995 Kimberly-Clark returns its pounds 7 million Kleenex
business to FCB.
March 1995 Kiely dies, aged 70.
August 1995 Detsiny becomes non-executive director. Robert Hamer, head
of Kimberly-Clark business, becomes chairman.
December 1996 Agency turns a pounds 750,000 loss for 1994 into a pounds
February 1997 Global alliance between True North, FCB’s parent, and
Publicis, is dissolved. True North acquires full control of FCB in