INTERNATIONAL: Culture clash makes Atlantic crossover tricky for UK shops - Launching in America can make the natives restless, movers tell Anna Griffiths

British agencies have started to trickle across the Atlantic to the largest and most lucrative advertising market in the world. So far, four have set up shop there. Is this the start of a British invasion or is the US agency culture such that few would be foolhardy enough to test its mettle?

British agencies have started to trickle across the Atlantic to the

largest and most lucrative advertising market in the world. So far, four

have set up shop there. Is this the start of a British invasion or is

the US agency culture such that few would be foolhardy enough to test

its mettle?

The most recent arrival is Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which opened a New York

office in September. Leagas Delaney opened its doors in San Francisco in

1996 and M&C Saatchi landed in New York the year before. Lowe Howard-

Spink chose an organic and, perhaps, more subtle approach, through the

acquisition in 1993 of the US hotshop, Scali McCabe Sloves.

Setting up in the US is not for the faint-hearted and the cachet of

British advertising creativity is no longer enough. M&C Saatchi opened a

New York office when it won British Airways. It has since picked up

clients such as Packard Bell, Qantas and Asprey with billings totalling

dollars 110 million, but it has not been an easy ride.

In September, the agency lost its joint creative chiefs, Brent Bouchez

and David Page, who are said to have resigned because they felt

frustrated at the lack of support from their London parent.

British shops face the choice of relying on the brand heritage of their

parent agencies or putting down new roots as independents.

Bruce Haines, chief executive of Leagas Delaney, who is overseeing the

San Francisco office, is adamant that the agency will operate on its own

merits. ’You are only as good as the people you have. The idea of coming

across and trading on a reputation so enormous and dynamic as ours would

give you no more than five minutes grace,’ he says, modestly.

The agency’s plan was to come across and nab the best US people to grab

client attention. ’We took a conscious decision to hire the best

American people we possibly could to operate an American agency, ’

Haines says.

Cindy Gallop, president of BBH in New York, is aware that client doors

will not be flung open by the arrival of a British brand. ’We are very

realistic about that fact that we will need to introduce to clients what

BBH offers.’

But she believes the agency can fill a gap. ’We did a lot of research in

the US before opening an office, and clients, industry observers and

analysts said it was very difficult to find agencies which combine a

great strategic focus and partner it with great execution of these

strategies. We have demonstrated worldwide an ability to combine


Like Haines, Gallop wants to recruit mostly American staff. ’We are keen

to learn from the cultures we go into and keep refreshing our own

culture - it’s not a one-way process.’

It is very early days but BBH New York celebrated its opening by winning

the global account for Reebok Classic, worth an estimated dollars 25


Reebok’s director of global advertising, John Wardley, says BBH is ’one

of the world’s greatest agencies’ and was keen to talk to them when he

heard they were opening in New York. In this case, BBH’s reputation

outside the US had opened a lucrative door. But as Gallop points out,

’people don’t tend to talk about representing British creativity, but

BBH creativity.

There’s a lot of very good work in the US and there doesn’t seem to be a

nationalist divide.’

Leagas Delaney’s hiring of a number of senior staff from Nike’s agency,

Goodby Silverstein & Partners, to work on its Adidas account did not

endear the UK start-up to its neighbours. GS&P’s co-founder, Rich

Silverstein, said at the time that San Francisco was ’a small city and

(Tim Delaney) is not a good neighbour. He’s not welcome.’ But despite

Leagas Delaney’s astute realisation that hiring nationals was the best

route to establishing the agency, it took more than a year to attract a

non-Adidas account.

Haines admits that the start-up was not all plain sailing. ’We had a

difficult time in the first six months when we lost our office manager,

Jack Rooney, who became vice-president of marketing for Miller Brewing.

It was unsettling for the first three months of 1997.

But it was worth it. ’We’ve got more than 50 people now, we have dollars

80 to dollars 90 million in billings. We’ve had three offices because we

outgrew the other two. That, combined with some terrific work and good

clients, means we are absolutely where we want to be.’

So how do the established US agencies view these UK entrants? Bob

Kuperman, president and chief executive, Americas, of TBWA/Chiat/Day,

says that any agency branching out faces a cultural problem.

’For agencies, whether they are British or not, it’s very difficult,

close to impossible, to transfer a culture. I don’t mean if you are

American or British - I mean an agency’s culture. If you look at the

history of most agencies, it’s been very difficult to move that agency

coast to coast.

It’s very difficult to put BBH in New York or Leagas Delaney in San


Kuperman points out that establishing an agency’s reputation across the

US is also hard because the past days of TV mass marketing have given

way to a much more segmented approach which impedes the ability to build

prestige in a quick and easy fashion.

Allan Rosenshine, chairman and chief executive of BBDO Worldwide, agrees

that it’s difficult for agencies to establish their reputation outside

local markets successfully. ’Take a market like Boston, which is a major

market in the US. No New York agency brand has successfully operated in

Boston, including BBDO. The reason is that clients in Boston who want to

be important want a Boston agency. If they want a New York agency they

get on a plane and go to New York. With technology today it’s not

difficult to cut the distances down. Coming from the other side of the

Atlantic, however, is different.’

Kuperman dismisses the idea that successful British agency brands

command a certain kudos among US clients. ’I don’t think there’s

anything particularly special about what they have to offer. They’ve

done some nice work but again, I don’t think they’ve set the town on

fire and I don’t know if that’s possible in this day and age.’

But let’s not forget that the Brits have an important and natural weapon

in their armoury. Rosenshine quips: ’We Americans still have an

irrational, exuberant reaction to the British accent - there’s something

about it that makes us think that they are sharp, smoother and more

urbane, so it’s not such a bad thing to approach the client with.

Britain has a great history and great creativity.’


               M&C Saatchi         Leagas Delaney         BBH

Launch date:   1995                1996                   1998

Account wins:  British Airways     Adidas                 Reebok Classic

               Packard Bell        National Ski Areas     Cointreau

               WorldSpy            Association

               Qantas              Sebastiani Vineyards

               Shady Brook Farms

               Real Media

Billings       dollars 110m        dollars 85m            dollars 27m*

*Estimated billings


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