INTEGRATED: INTEGRATED AUDIT; Forget company structures, for BBH the brand’s the thing

Robert Dwek meets some of the big leaguers at BBH and is told; never mind the size...just feel the quality

Robert Dwek meets some of the big leaguers at BBH and is told; never

mind the size...just feel the quality



‘If we were looking for expansion, we’d start doing creative pitches. We

could double the size of the company overnight.’



Mark Cranmer, the managing director of Motive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s

media arm, is convincing me that the BBH group, famed for its fierce

independence and firm creative principles, is not about to change its

spots in the name of integration.



I’d asked whether BBH - fresh from its pounds 20 million Club Med win

last month - wasn’t in danger of entering an expansionist phase that

might sit uneasily with its highly focused past.



Consider the recent evidence: the establishment in February of a

subsidiary called Educational Communications, exploiting the

accelerating trend towards sponsorship in schools, and the formation of

Motive as a separate entity rather than an in-house department in July.



Combine all this with the current frenzy over integrated communications,

and you can’t help wondering whether the BBH group, which already has

direct marketing, sales promotion and design arms, isn’t about to recast

itself in a more aggressive role.



Well, after an hour with the agency’s senior management, the answer

seems clear enough: certainly not. Remember, this is an agency which has

just resigned pounds 6 million worth of Cadbury business because of

irreconcilable differences over everything from creative approach to

remuneration.



‘We’ve turned down three times as many pitches as we’ve actually done,’

Martin Smith, the deputy chairman of BBH, claims, adding to Cranmer’s

earlier comment.



It becomes clear talking to BBH that its obsession with creative quality

and its wariness of becoming bigger but bland mean that the agency is

unlikely to do anything drastic in the foreseeable future.



In reality, the agency puts teams together from all parts of the group

to solve particular marketing problems.



‘We absolutely have to be able to get on with the people we work with,’

Smith says. ‘Sure, we’ve got loads of ideas for new companies, but we’re

not going to do anything unless we know it’s going to work on a personal

level.’



The few companies there are under the BBH umbrella were all backed by

BBH from the start. ‘If you begin with a like-mindedness, you’re much

more likely to work well together,’ Smith explains.



This, for BBH, is what true integration is all about. As far as

integrated strategies are concerned, the agency is firmly in the don’t-

believe-the-hype camp.



According to Charles Garland, BBH’s group development director and the

founder of its successful below-the-line outfit, Limbo, integration

should be something that concerns only the brand. ‘The way agencies are

structured is of no relevance,’ he says.



But it’s not just agencies who are to blame for all this sound and fury

signifying nothing. Clients are also at fault, Garland says, for cutting

staff and corners in the recession and now falling under the spell of

agencies spinning the one-stop-shop spiel. All this focus on company

structures merely reflects the sorry state of the client-agency

relationship, he asserts.



Declining advertising budgets have left agencies transformed from

partners to mere suppliers. As a result, they are scrambling to offer

add-ons in a desperate bid to maintain revenue.



It is ‘far more interesting’ to talk about the brand. Introducing the

only piece of sloganeering to feature in this conversation, he refers to

something called ‘brand liberation’, which means maintaining enough

flexibility to do whatever is necessary to keep a brand buzzing with

personality.



This, he asserts, is unlikely to happen in an agency weighed down by the

‘process’ of integration. ‘They have solved the wrong problem,’ he says

of agencies who try to turn their structure into a usp. Smith concurs:

‘It always amuses me how agencies go to such lengths to emphasise their

uniqueness, but then, amazingly, they manage to find other agencies just

like them when it comes to integration.’



Juliet Timms, the managing director of Limbo, agrees: ‘There has to be a

commonality of culture.’ She was previously at Rapp Collins, the founder

of which, Stan Rapp, takes a rather adversarial view of all things above

the line and has declared the 90s ‘the database decade’.



‘At the time, I probably thought it was a pretty great war cry,’ Timms

admits, ‘but it’s absolutely not the way forward, it’s so small-minded.

Coming here was a major learning exercise for me and has made me see how

it all revolves around the brand.’



She concedes the growing importance of the database, but says it is not

becoming an end in itself in the way that Rapp seems to be saying. Smith

points out that the agency has no problems with databases. BBH has just

won an unnamed account which ‘we realised we could only work on if we

sorted out the client’s loyalty programme’, he says.



‘We have no problem looking at that kind of thing,’ he explains, ‘but

what we’re saying is we’re not hung up on the fact that we absolutely

have to persuade the client to do it all under one roof, and nor do we

try to make everything we do fit into some rigid process.’



Smith adds that Tango, BBH’s design consultancy, attends all the

meetings between the ad agency and its most famous client, Levi’s. This

has nothing to do with structure and everything to do with having the

right company culture, he argues. ‘We’re focused on what that brand’s

problems are and out of that drops a number of things.’



This flexibility and focus means that clients are beginning to explore

BBH’s services in more adventurous ways.



‘The entry point to getting the problem solved is no longer necessarily

the advertising agency,’ Garland says, noting two recent examples where

Limbo and Tango clients are now considering above-the-line services.



It boils down to brands, not integration, Cranmer stresses: ‘The brand

has an aura about it if you get it right. There’s much more to it than

simply trying to make everything look the same just because you want to

be integrated. You don’t get brownie points from the consumer.’



As the world continues to fragment, the benefits of having a powerful

brand are going to become more and more obvious. ‘There are a lot of

opportunities for invisibility out there,’ Cranmer warns.



Smith puts it more emphatically: ‘Integrated crap is still crap.’



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Selected BBH clients

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Advertiser    Ads    DM    SP    Design

Audi UK       yes    yes   yes   no

              BBH’s first win when it opened for business in 1982

Heineken      yes    no    no    yes

              The agency handles the international umbrella branding

Levi Strauss  yes    no    no    yes

              The agency’s most high-profile and award-winning account

NatWest       yes    yes   yes   no

              BBH won the account from JWT, CDP and Saatchis in 1990

Polaroid      yes    no    no    yes

              Pan-European account prized from BDDP in Paris in 1994

Source: Campaign

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Group companies

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Bartle Bogle Hegarty          Advertising

Motive                        Media specialist

Limbo                         Direct marketing and sales promotion

Tango                         Design

BBH Futures                   Brand futures

Educational Communications    Educational sponsorship

Cutting Edge                  Studio

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