FCB THE AGONY & THE ECSTASY: FCB celebrates its 50th birthday next week. John Tylee reports on the rise and fall of what was once regarded as one of the hottest agencies in London

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.

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

consecutive pitches.

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

modern times.

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

cloth cap.’

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,

melted away.

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

managing director.

January 1992 Delaney quits as creative director.

February 1992 FCB moves from Baker Street to its current offices in St

Martin’s Lane.

May 1992 Dalton announces he is leaving.

December 1992 MacCabe dies, aged 78.

February 1994 Alan Midgley and John Bacon replace Mike Isaacson as

creative directors.

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

702,000 profit.

February 1997 Global alliance between True North, FCB’s parent, and

Publicis, is dissolved. True North acquires full control of FCB in


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