LIVE ISSUE/FRENCH NETWORKS: Have French agencies finally conquered the UK? - Emma Hall reports on the turnaround in fortunes of French networks in the UK

Have the French learned their lesson? After episodes of unsolicited aggression and some radical misreadings of the UK market, the Gallic networks can at last be universally proud of their standing in the Campaign Top 30 league.

Have the French learned their lesson? After episodes of unsolicited

aggression and some radical misreadings of the UK market, the Gallic

networks can at last be universally proud of their standing in the

Campaign Top 30 league.

Publicis rose from 12th to seventh place in the rankings, and Euro RSCG

Wnek Gosper moved up a rung to the 13th slot. BST-BDDP also held on to

its place at number 25 after a steady 1996, and put an extra pounds 13

million on its billings (Campaign, last week).

All three networks have come a long way since BDDP attempted an

ill-judged and hostile takeover bid for BMP DDB Needham in 1989 - an

event that was seen by many as a typical show of French arrogance.

Paul Foster, who was chairman and chief executive of Colman RSCG ten

years ago, observes: ’The French have at last learned that in the UK you

can’t crowd, rush and hassle an agency into being what you want it to


Instead, the Paris headquarters of Euro RSCG, BDDP and Publicis have all

been aiming for consistency and steady growth by allowing local agencies

the utmost autonomy.

Maurice Levy, Publicis’s chairman, says: ’I’d love to say that it is

because the British look at the French as the future of advertising, but

the London success has come about despite the French parent. It is due

to having the right people, and once you have found them, it is a

mistake to have too much outside input.’

Nick Baum, the European chief executive of Euro RSCG, agrees: ’We

recognise that France lacks automatic credibility and it makes up less

than 4 per cent of the global advertising market so we have no desire to

impose ourselves on the world. French are in the minority on our

worldwide board.’

Publicis’s chairman, Michael Conroy, and its joint chief executives, Dan

O’Donoghue and Rick Bendel, were not bragging about their steady stream

of success throughout 1996, which included multi-million pound wins from

Inmarsat, Roysters, Whitehall Laboratories, Thomson Electronics,

Hewlett-Packard, Guinness and Allied Bakeries.

Nor is much noise made about its work for top-spending clients such as

MFI and Asda, which together make up pounds 40 million of its pounds

186.5 million billing business. Coca-Cola adds a further pounds 26

million and Renault pounds 45.5 million (ACN-Meal).

Bendel says that the Publicis mindset is simply to ’get down to it’, and

that the network is ’relatively humble’, though he adds confidently:

’You have to find the best players and then let them play their own


It is unlikely now that the European networks would ever produce an

upset like that seen at DMB&B in February 1995 when the two successful

joint chairmen of the London agency - Graham Hinton and Tony Douglas -

were ousted by an edict from the US and replaced by the American bosses’

blue-eyed boy, John Farrell.

Over at Euro RSCG, they may shout louder than Publicis but they are

telling the same story - find the right local management and let them

get on with it. Baum says: ’We found a fantastic trio and all the credit

has to go to them. Our management tendency is to give people as much

responsibility as they can handle.’

Baum says the triumvirate - Mark Wnek, the executive creative director,

Brett Gosper, the chief executive, and Chris Pinnington, the managing

director - ’run the agency as if it were their own’.

At Publicis, local autonomy is a creed, and the communication from head

office is likely to be only about finances or setting long-term


International pitch teams are rare, and even work on French clients is

all done individually for local markets.

Euro RSCG, however, plays more on its cross-border teamwork. The

network’s key players spend a fair amount of time in the chunnel, and

Gosper and Wnek are both on the worldwide board.

Speed, youth and flexibility, Gosper claims, often give the European

networks an edge on the monolithic US networks. He says: ’The US

networks are like American Express, they have the same look and style

all over the world, whereas the European networks are more like a

familiar local bank card with a little Visa sign in the corner - the

international advantages are there for when you need them, but they

don’t swamp the local character.’

As the new kids on the block, relatively speaking, the French networks

struggle sometimes against agencies of the size and clout of Ogilvy and

Mather or J. Walter Thompson. ’In every market you have to be much

better than the obvious choice,’ Levy says.

Baum reveals that the French advertising fraternity tends to group

Americans and British together as one Anglo-Saxon community, thinking of

them as smart, smooth and likely to pull a fast one.

Out of necessity, the French networks are diluting their Frenchness and

gradually becoming as global as their American counterparts, although,

as Foster says: ’They are still a step away from the premier league.’

After all, Wieden and Kennedy originates most of the creative work for

Publicis’s Coke account and for Euro RSCG’s Microsoft business.

Rivalry between Publicis, BDDP and Euro RSCG is fierce, and the

agencies’ London bosses were reluctant to be grouped together in the

same article. They did agree on one thing, however - they all want to be

like Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.